Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam has announced the postponement of legislative council elections scheduled for September, citing a worsening coronavirus outbreak.
The move on Friday is seen as a setback for the pro-democracy opposition, which was hoping to capitalise on disenchantment with the current pro-Beijing majority to win a historic majority itself.
At a press conference, Lam said the “tough” decision was aimed at safeguarding people’s health.
Before Lam’s announcement, a group of 22 lawmakers had issued a statement accusing the government of using the outbreak as an excuse to delay the vote.
The city of 7.5 million people has seen a surge in coronavirus infections since the beginning of July.
Hong Kong had registered some 3,100 infections as of Thursday, more than double the tally at the start of the month.
The highly anticipated vote on September 6 vote would have been the first since Beijing imposed a controversial national security law imposed on the former British colony last month stipulated that candidates who violated it would be barred from running.
Critics say the law is an attempt by China to curb dissent in Hong Kong, ushering a crackdown the spells the end of the Chinese-ruled city’s high degree of autonomy.
The Chinese and Hong Kong governments say the law will not undermine Hong Kong’s freedoms and is necessary to preserve order and prosperity after months of often-violent anti-government protests last year.