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HK stabbing in broad daylight raises election safety questions

Hong Kong

HONG KONG has been gripped for almost five months by protests demanding greater democracy. Now, a pair of bloody attacks on candidates is raising questions about whether the city can even hold an election.

On Wednesday, a pro-Beijing lawmaker known for his inflammatory comments against protesters was stabbed on the street while campaigning. Earlier this week, a pro-democracy candidate had a piece of his ear bitten off in a vicious brawl.

Both men are seeking one of the more than 450 District Council seats up for grabs on Nov 24, in what will be the first citywide vote since a wave of historic protests struck the former British colony in June.

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The vote has emerged as a test of whether of the city's commitment to democracy amid waves of demonstrations that have devolved into vandalism, police clashes and occasional mob violence.

The city's Beijing-appointed chief executive, Carrie Lam, has the authority to decide whether to delay the voting. The election could be delayed in case of a "riot, open violence or any ­danger to public health or safety", according to a paper the government submitted to the city's legislature.

"I'm greatly worried that the only democratic election that we can have might be torpedoed by all of this," said Ronny Tong, a pro-establishment Hong Kong lawmaker.

"With this attack, people are beginning to question whether it's safe to carry on with the elections as if nothing has happened."

A delay would deal a setback to a rare bastion of democracy under Chinese rule. Although district councilors have little political power, they help choose electors that select the city's top leader and the election is expected to set the tone for more consequential vote for seats on the local legislature next year.

Hong Kong's government is legally allowed to delay the vote for as long as 14 days. But, in October, Mrs Lam invoked the colonial-era Emergency Powers Ordinance for the first time since 1967 - in order to ban the face masks worn by protesters - and could conceivably do so again to push back the elections beyond that time frame. One Lam adviser suggested in an interview with news site HK01 that if protests continue past a certain date ahead of the elections, the voting process should be postponed.

Still, such a move risks further inflaming tensions and provoking US lawmakers to get more aggressive in efforts to support Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp. The Hong Kong government issued a statement saying it "severely condemns" the attack but didn't say whether Wednesday's stabbing of lawmaker Junius Ho had influenced its decision on whether to hold the election.

He was handed flowers by a man who suddenly pulled out a knife and stabbed him in the chest. He said "the climate of the election is unjust and order is already lost." It was the latest in a series of attacks on prominent figures affiliated with the election.

Activist Jimmy Sham of the Civil Human Rights Front, which has organised some of the city's biggest protests, was attacked for a second time last month after announcing he would run. Yeung Tsz Hei, a pro-establishment candidate, was kicked while campaigning on Wednesday morning, HK01 reported. A man verbally harassed, attempted to kick him and later returned to throw an unidentified liquid at him, it said. BLOOMBERG