The White House on Friday condemned Hong Kong’s decision to postpone September legislative elections by a year because of the coronavirus, denouncing the action a day after President Trump floated the idea of delaying the U.S. presidential election in November.
“We condemn the Hong Kong government’s decision to postpone for one year its legislative council elections and to disqualify opposition candidates,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a news briefing. Reading from a prepared statement,she characterized the move as part of an effort by China to deny “promised autonomy and freedom to the Hong Kong people.”
On Thursday, Trump drew immediate rebukes from across the political spectrum after proposing to delay the Nov. 3 election and claiming without evidence that widespread mail balloting would be a “catastrophic disaster” leading to fraudulent results — an assertion he repeated later Friday when speaking to reporters.
State governments have increasingly embraced mail-in voting in response to the pandemic, casting it as a way to have fewer people risk infection while casting ballots in person. Democrats seized on Trump’s proposal, suggesting it was evidence that he fears losing to their party’s presumptive nominee, Joe Biden, who has been leading in the polls.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a news conference that she was invoking emergency powers to postpone the vote — unprecedented in the city’s political history since its handover from Britain to China in 1997. Postponing the election, she said, was the most “difficult decision” she has had to make since the onset of the virus in January.
Because of the pandemic, “we would not be able to meet the requirements of an open and fair election,” she said.
Opposition politicians and observers characterized the move as designed to stack the political system with those loyal to the Chinese Communist Party and snuff out even moderate political opposition in Hong Kong.
McEnany said from the White House podium that the postponement “undermines the democratic processes and freedoms that have underpinned Hong Kong’s prosperity, and this is only the most recent in a growing list of broken promises by Beijing.”
Trump floated the idea of delaying the U.S. presidential election in a Thursday morning tweet, which concluded with the question: “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
At a news conference later in the day, he said that while he does not want to delay the Nov. 3 vote, the alternative is a “crooked election” that could take months or even years to resolve — suggesting he is prepared to contest the results if he loses.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Trump said he would prefer to hold the election sooner if possible but predicted it would be “catastrophic for our nation” if there is widespread mail-in balloting.
“You won’t know the election result for weeks, months, maybe years after,” Trump said. “Maybe you’ll never know the election result, and that’s what I’m concerned with. It will be fixed. It will be rigged. People ought to get smart.
Trump pointed to congressional elections in New York in which mail-in ballots are still being counted several weeks after Election Day.
“Everyone knows mail-in ballots are a disaster,” he said.
Trump sought to draw a distinction between absentee balloting, saying it ensures more security, and other forms of mail-in balloting.
“These governors are going to send out millions of ballots. They don’t even know where they’re sending them,” Trump asserted.
Shibani Mahtani in Hong Kong and Amy Gardner in Washington contributed to this report.