Authorities have announced that they will not be holding by-elections to fill two vacant seats in the Legislative Council, saying given the city's social unrest, by the time they could arrange them it would almost be the end of the current Legco term.
Au Nok-hin and Gary Fan lost their seats last year as a result of legal challenges by two other pro-democracy figures, with the courts agreeing that the way officials barred Demosisto's Agnes Chow and localist Ventus Lau from running as Legco candidates had been wrong.
The Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) said on Tuesday that taking into account the "very difficult situations and unprecedented challenges" encountered during the holding of last November's district council polls, it would take more than half a year to arrange by-elections for the vacant Legco seats in the Hong Kong Island and New Territories East constituencies.
"According to the Legislative Council Ordinance, a by-election to fill a vacancy occurring in the membership of the Legco is not to be held within the four months preceding the end of that council's current term of office. As such, the EAC will not be able to arrange a by-election to fill the two vacancies," a statement said.
Elections for all 70 seats in Legco are scheduled for September, with the legislature's current term coming to an end on the 30th of the month.
The EAC said with 4.1 million registered electors, September's elections will be a "large-scale" undertaking involving "an enormous amount of manpower and resources".
"With more than 1.7 million registered electors in Hong Kong Island and New Territories East geographical constituencies, if a by-election is to be held, the preparation for the by-election will overlap with that of the 2020 Legco General Election. The current manpower of the Registration and Electoral Office is not adequate to prepare for two major public elections simultaneously."
A spokesman for the EAC also said that "under the current social situation" officials will need more time and resources to prepare for the upcoming polls, including when it comes to the polling stations and "contingencies".
In 2018, a returning officer barred Chow from a Legco poll, saying the activist would be unlikely to uphold the Basic Law because of Demosisto's now abandoned stance on self-determination for the Hong Kong people.
The High Court later ruled that Chow had not been given a fair opportunity to respond to the returning officer's claim.
Similarly, the High Court ruled that a returning officer did not give Lau an opportunity to respond to the contention that he supported Hong Kong independence.
Those rulings meant Au and Fan were not duly elected.
But despite welcoming the outcome of the court cases, the pair sought to urge the Court of Final Appeal to use its discretion to allow them to keep their seats in Legco. In December, the CFA said it would not hear their appeals.