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HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Friday postponed a Sept. 6 election to the Chinese-ruled city's legislature by a year because of a rise in coronavirus cases, dealing a blow to the pro-democracy opposition which had hoped to make huge gains. The decision 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.

"Postponing the September elections for a year is a cynical move to contain a political emergency, not a public health one," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. "This simply allows Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to deny Hong Kong people their right to choose their government." Avery Ng, secretary-general of the League of Social Democrats, was equally sceptical. "Obviously the Chinese Communist Party is using COVID-19 as a cover to stop Hong Kongers from voting against the government and democrats' potential majority win," he told Reuters.

"Together with the mass disqualification of candidates, the CCP ... only allows an election in which they can control the outcome to take place."

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.