Fears of vote-buying shrugged off

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 September, 2005, 12:00am

'Organising' people at polling stations is not coercion, says anti-corruption chief

Voting irregularities still appear to be rampant in Macau, although government officials, the business community and academics say corrupt election practices are declining.

During the 11-hour polling session, dozens of voters were shuttled to voting stations in tour buses and vans. Makeshift kiosks were set up near polling stations, providing free drinks and lunchboxes. People in golfing shirts sporting candidates' colours directed voters into and out of polling stations, pointing them to designated vehicles that take the voters home.

Such activities were not necessarily vote-buying, said Cheong U, commissioner of the Macau Commission Against Corruption (CCAC), who stressed that civic awareness had taken a leap forward compared with previous elections.

'If they are simply organising people to vote, that is acceptable,' Mr Cheong said. 'The most important thing is that there is no coercion involved and that people have the right to choose whether they want the service.'

Some 60 people were detained by the commission after complaints were lodged about people wearing similar-coloured tops who appeared to be collecting voters' identification cards outside polling stations, the CCAC said.

The fact that Macau authorities acknowledge they are investigating possible vote-rigging incidents indicates an improvement from past elections. In the 1996 Legco election, no government department would admit vote-buying existed in Macau. Afonso Camoes, then director of the Government Information Services, said that officials had not received any complaints about vote-buying in the history of Macau's direct elections, which started in 1976.

Even casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun said yesterday that anti-graft efforts had curbed vote-rigging activities.

'Just a few years ago, people were counting cash everywhere on the streets,' he said, describing the prevalence of vote-buying.

Meanwhile, photojournalist Ho Ion-wa of Today Macau, a Chinese-language daily newspaper, was assaulted yesterday afternoon at a Chinese restaurant in Barbosa in the northern district. Ho was taking photographs of a group of people having lunch, a colleague said. Several people tried to take the memory card out of Ho's camera, damaging his equipment. Ho was taken to hospital.

Eilo Yu Wing-yat, assistant professor of public administration at the University of Macau, said something like that had not happened before.

'It's a regretful incident that will mark this year's election,' he said. 'Perhaps [the perpetrators] thought they were accused of certain irregularities. Perhaps media attention is heightened this year because of the intense competition among candidates.'

Of the 461 complaints received this year, four cases involving 561 suspects have been referred to the prosecutor's office.