September 6 tentative date for Legislative Council election, but HK’s battle with Covid-19 lends uncertainty

10-Apr-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

September 6 has been set as the tentative date for Hong Kong’s upcoming Legislative Council election, despite concerns the polls could yet be postponed as the city grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

The provisional date for the highly anticipated election was mentioned in a circular sent by the Registration and Electoral Office to permanent secretaries and heads of various government departments on Monday, and revealed to the Post on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau later confirmed the provisional date, saying the “exact date of the election will be based on what will be published in the Gazette later”.

Riding the momentum of the anti-government movement that erupted in June, the opposition camp rolled to a stunning victory in November’s district council elections and now hope to take control of Legco for the first time since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

But pro-Beijing lawmakers recently urged the government to consider postponing the election, as the pandemic was unlikely to end by September.

Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs chief Patrick Nip Tak-kuen conceded on Tuesday that the date of the Legco elections held every four years would normally have been published by now in the government’s weekly Gazette. But while it has been behind schedule this year due to the Covid-19 outbreak, preparation for the polls was still under way, Nip said.

The election authorities are recruiting 31,000 civil servants to serve as staff at about 600 polling stations across the city, including 600 presiding officers.

According to the circular issued by the election authorities, the honorarium for civil servants who will serve as presiding officers at polling stations would be HK$20,580 to HK$24,310, depending on the size of the polling station.

That marks a significant increase from the HK$9,390 to HK$10,170 presiding officers received in the 2016 Legco polls.

The government has chosen the AsiaWorld-Expo as the central counting station for the election.

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said credit should be given to the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau for moving forward with preparations for the election.

“My understanding is that officials with the bureau want to hold the Legco election as scheduled in September,” he said.

“I understand that the bureau had come under tremendous pressure from the pro-establishment camp for insisting on holding the district councils election as scheduled in November,” Choy added, referencing a push to have them delayed amid the anti-government protests.

Ma Ngok, another political scientist at Chinese University, said the amount of preparation required made it important for the government to set a date.

“There is plenty of work to handle, such as identifying polling stations and hiring staff, and it takes time for such preparatory work,” Ma said.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, meanwhile, agreed it was normal for the government to set a provisional date for the election, though suggested changes that could benefit Beijing-aligned lawmakers were possible.

“Patrick Nip declined to reveal a date on Tuesday probably because the government wants to keep some flexibility before deciding the exact date,” Lam said. “They may hope to take into account the fortunes of the pro-establishment camp in the upcoming election and the progress in containing the pandemic.”


Category: Hong Kong

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