The decision by Hong Kong’s leader to postpone next month’s chief executive race to focus on combating the worsening Covid-19 crisis could lead to a number of political “firsts” for the city, analysts have said. Beijing could simply extend the term of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor if the rising wave of infections had not been brought under control by May 8, the new date for the election previously scheduled for March 27, they noted. Lam could also move the poll even further back, as the revised schedule still afforded enough days between the election and the end of her term on June 30 to comply with requirements laid down in the city’s Basic Law mini-constitution. Another option is for a leader to be decided based on “consultation”, which the law also permits. Extending Lam’s term would bring its own set of challenges, noted Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies. Allowing her to remain in office longer than the five years prescribed by law would deliver a blow to the city’s stability and community solidarity, due to the “complicated constitutional and political issues” that would need to be resolved, he said. Lam’s decision, which came after Chinese President Xi Jinping stated the pandemic should be the government’s “overriding priority”, was generally welcomed by the city’s politicians and business leaders. “Lam’s administration heeded Beijing’s call in an appropriate and timely move to reprioritise society’s focus to combat the worsening Omicron wave,” Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body told the Post . Tam said it would be a “reasonable expectation” by both Beijing and the public to expect the daily number of cases would be significantly lower than the thousands of cases reported currently when the election arrived. Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen lauded Lam’s move to use the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to justify the delay as a “well-thought-out approach” with a strong legal basis. His view was echoed by New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a top adviser to Lam. The government was operating “in line with procedural fairness” by deciding to postpone the election before the nomination period commenced, she said. The Chief Executive Election Ordinance allows the race to be postponed for up to 42 days from the close of the nomination window only if the two-week window concludes with no hopefuls securing enough votes. The window was scheduled to begin on Sunday and end March 5. The nominations process will now instead commence on April 3. Hong Kong must wake up from its blind faith in universal suffrage Under Beijing’s overhaul last year to ensure only “patriots” rule Hong Kong, aspirants must secure 188 nominations from the enlarged 1,463-member Election Committee, with a minimum of 15 from each of its five sectors. The newly added fifth sector is stacked with representatives from national organisations widely regarded as pro-Beijing loyalists. The government has invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to postpone a vote before. Lam’s administration turned to that law in July 2020 when it delayed the Legislative Council poll by one year, citing health risks involved in staging a large-scale public event. At that time, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee handed down a decision to authorise extending the legislative term for a year. Professor Simon Young Ngai-man, of the University of Hong Kong’s law faculty, saw a chance for the standing committee to make a similar decision to extend Lam’s term, if the outbreak was not contained by May. “This is to ensure legal compatibility with the Basic Law as Article 46 limits the chief executive term of office to five years,” he said. 3 more hopefuls emerge for Hong Kong leadership race, but Lam remains coy on bid In announcing her decision on Friday, Lam did not rule out involving Beijing to extend her term or push back the vote past June 30. “I don’t have a crystal ball,” Lam said. “I cannot guarantee that by early April when the nomination period starts again, we will not have Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong. But we still have about six weeks to fight this epidemic.” Barrister Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a member of Lam’s de facto cabinet, viewed a one-year extension of the government’s term as a “practical” option if the Omicron variant was still overwhelming the city. But if that path was chosen, the next chief executive would probably serve only four years as Beijing might not want to affect the dates for the leadership polls to follow, he argued. “This is to avoid clashing with years of Legco elections and change of terms of the state leader, and to make sure the last chief executive before the 50-year promise of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle expires still enjoys a five-year term,” Tong said. Under the terms of the agreement between China and former colonial ruler Britain, the city is guaranteed its way of life for five decades after the 1997 handover. Another option to decide the next leader is by “consultation”, as laid out in Article 45 of the Basic Law, which states: “The chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the central people’s government.” Four hopefuls have so far declared an intention to contest the election: film producer and kung fu master Checkley Sin Kwok-lam; Titus Wu Sai-chuen, a former member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong; Wong Man-hong; and Ahm Warm-sun, the last two being little known in political circles. Sin said the delay could “buy time” for him to canvass support from lesser-known members of the Election Committee. He said a 54-day window would still be “sufficient” for the new leader to recruit cabinet members as preferred candidates were “already in his mind”.