BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top legislature has decided to extend the mandate for the current group of Hong Kong lawmakers for a year from its expiry date of Sept. 30, after a scheduled election was delayed, state media reported on Tuesday.
Critics cast the decision to postpone the election as political, saying it was intended to prevent Hong Kong's opposition pro-democracy camp from capitalising on a wave of public support after China imposed harsh new national security laws on the city in late June.
The decision by China's legislature means Hong Kong's 70-member Legislative Council, or Legco, will continue to perform its duties for "no less than a year" and until the next Legco starts its four-year term, state news agency Xinhua said.
The standing committee of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, supported the Hong Kong government's decision on July 31 to postpone a Sept. 6 election for the next Legco for a year, calling it "necessary and appropriate".
"It not only maintains the constitutional and legal order of the HKSAR (Hong Kong), but also ensures the normal governance of the HKSAR Government and the normal operation of society," Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said in a statement. "It demonstrates once again the care and support of the Central Government."
The Hong Kong government justified the delay given what it called the "severe" COVID-19 epidemic situation and a need to protect public health.
At least 12 pro-democracy candidates, including a number of young activists and moderate democrats from the Civic Party were earlier disqualified from the election on ideological grounds.
Four of those barred are incumbent pro-democracy lawmakers including Civic Party members Alvin Yeung and Dennis Kwok.
There was no immediate clarification on whether these lawmakers would be allowed to serve out the extra year.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and James Pomfret; Editing by Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)