A woman walks by a wharf in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, south China, July 16, 2020
A woman walks by a wharf in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, south China, July 16, 2020
Photo: Xinhua

HONG KONG: Legal professionals and organizations in Hong Kong said on Sunday that there is sufficient legal basis to postpone the 2020 Legislative Council (LegCo) election of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) for one year, which will better safeguard the health and well-being of Hong Kong residents.

Maria Tam Wai-chu, deputy director of the HKSAR Basic Law Committee under the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said that when dozens of countries and regions around the world have postponed elections, the HKSAR government's decision to put off the election aims to create a more stable environment and concentrate on dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tam said the COVID-19 outbreak is severe in Hong Kong which poses a threat to public health. The decision made by the HKSAR government was reasonable and legal and has taken full account of the public interest.

Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, chairwoman of the LegCo's Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services, said the decision made by the HKSAR Chief Executive in Council can stand the test of law. Postponing the election cannot be construed as depriving Hong Kong residents of their right to vote, as some people may not be able to return to Hong Kong to vote due to the pandemic and the willingness of older people to vote will also be greatly reduced.

Former Secretary for Justice of the HKSAR government Elsie Leung said the postponement of the election is aimed at ensuring public safety, especially when the daily additional cases of COVID-19 have been over 100 for many days. If the election is held as scheduled, a larger outbreak might be resulted.

Tong Ka-wah, a member of the HKSAR Executive Council, also a senior counsel, said the LegCo will deal with specific matters at specific times every year, including the policy address and the budget. In order not to disrupt these arrangements, it is better and safer to postpone the election for one year.

Chan Hiu-fung, head of Hong Kong and Mainland Legal Profession Association, said there is sufficient legal basis to postpone the election and this is the best plan to protect the health of the public and safeguard the fairness of the election. This also respects the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of residents who cannot return to Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council said earlier that the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, will at the earliest possible date decide on how to deal with the vacancy of the LegCo incurred due to the postponement.

In response, many legal professionals and organizations pointed out that NPC Standing Committee's decision will have indisputable legitimacy and will make the operation of the LegCo more stable.

A statement issued by the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation said that according to Article 158 of the HKSAR Basic Law, the power of interpretation of this Law shall be vested in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Therefore, the NPC Standing Committee's decision will have indisputable legal effect, which can avoid unnecessary judicial review and legal proceedings.

This is in line with the public interest, Hong Kong's actual situation and international standards, the statement said, urging the public to support the HKSAR government in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, to protect the lives, safety and health of Hong Kong people, and to ensure the steady and sustainable development of "one country, two systems."

Priscilla Leung believed that the decision of the NPC Standing Committee will give greater legitimacy and constitutionality to the decisions of the HKSAR government, and would also make the operation of the LegCo more stable in the coming year, so as to better protect the public interest.

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