BEIJING: China's top legislature has decided to extend the mandate for the current group of Hong Kong lawmakers for a year from its expiry date of Sep 30, after a scheduled election was delayed, Chinese state media reported on Tuesday (Aug 11).
The decision means Hong Kong's Legislative Council, or Legco, will continue to perform its duties for "no less than a year" and until the next Legco starts its four-year term, Xinhua news agency said.
China's top legislature, the standing committee of China's National People's Congress, supported the Hong Kong government's decision on Jul 31 to postpone a Sep 6 election for the next Legco for a year, calling it "necessary and appropriate".
"It not only maintains the constitutional and legal order of the HKSAR (Hong Kong), but also ensures the normal governance of the HKSAR Government and the normal operation of society," Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said in a statement.
"It demonstrates once again the care and support of the Central Government."
Lam announced last month that elections for the city legislature on Sep 6 will be postponed due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The new date has been set for Sep 5, 2021.
Lam said the decision was the hardest choice she had made in the last seven months, but said it was aimed at safeguarding people's health.
The postponement came after 12 pro-democracy candidates were disqualified from running for perceived subversive intentions and opposition to a sweeping new security law imposed by Beijing, prompting questions among many about whether the pandemic was the real reason for the delay.
Hong Kong's bar association had said the government's decision to postpone the election for the city's legislature may be unlawful.
Electoral rules in Hong Kong only allow votes to be postponed for 14 days, but colonial-era laws give the government broad powers in case of threats to public safety.
The opposition had aimed to ride a wave of resentment over the national security law to win a majority in the Legislative Council, where half the seats are directly elected with the other half filled mostly by pro-Beijing appointees.
Lam said she had to invoke an emergency law to make the postponement and no political considerations were involved.
She added that the decision was aimed at safeguarding people's health.
"We have 3 million voters going out in one day across Hong Kong, such flow of people would cause high risk of infection," Lam said.
Hong Kong reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a sharp drop from figures registered since the start of July.
Three more deaths were also registered in the city, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths in Hong Kong to 58. Since late January, more than 4,100 people have been infected in Hong Kong.