Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said on July 31 that elections on Sept. 6 for the city legislature will be postponed for a full year due to a spike in coronavirus cases.
The new date has been set for Sept, 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.
She added the decision is supported by the central government in Beijing.
Blow to opposition
The postponement has effectively dealt a major blow to the city's pro-democracy opposition.
Her announcement 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.
Among the 12 opposition candidates disqualified was Joshua Wong.
He rose to fame for leading protests in Hong Kong as a teenager in 2012 and 2014.
"Barring me from running ... would not stop our cause for democracy," said Wong, 23.
The purge has prompted questions about whether the pandemic was the real reason for the delay.
Avery Ng, secretary-general of the League of Social Democrats, was 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."
Opposition looking to capitalise
The opposition was banking on riding a wave of resentment over the national security law to win a majority in the Legislative Council.
Half of the Legislative Council is made up of seats that 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.
China's parliament would decide how to fill the legislative vacuum, she added.
People's health comes first
Lam told reporters 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's Covid-19 resurgence
Hong Kong has reported more than 3,000 coronavirus cases since January.
But the number of new infections has been in the triple-digits for the past 10 days.
New regulations in place have put a ban on gatherings of more than two people, dining in restaurants and making the wearing of face masks mandatory in public places, including outdoors.
Countries postponing elections
At least 68 countries and territories have delayed national or regional polls due to Covid-19 since February, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
At least 49 countries and territories have decided to hold national or subnational elections, it said.
The poll would have been the former British colony's first official vote since Beijing imposed the new security law.