Macau netizens irked by lack of democracy step out of cyberspace

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 May, 2009, 12:00am
 

Macau netizens frustrated by a lack of democracy are stepping out of cyberspace, hoping to sway the city's chief executive election by action in the physical world.

They are planning to hold a candlelight vigil to demand clean government in the special administrative region and protest against the widely expected victory of Fernando Chui Sai-on, the former culture minister, in July 26 elections.

A group of netizens have said they plan to stage the vigil in late June against 'businesspeople ruling Macau' and 'small-circle elections'.

Traditionally, residents of the tight-knit Macau community have been conservative and apolitical, and any online talk about politics has rarely translated into action.

But netizens have put their money where their mouths are. A group has chipped in to place an advert in a Hong Kong newspaper warning against big business influence in Macau's chief executive election.

They decided to advertise in Hong Kong after some Macau newspapers refused to run their ad. It appeared in a local Chinese-language newspaper on Tuesday despite the fact that their Macau fund-raising bank account was frozen last week.

Last Sunday, a woman Web user declared on popular Macau forum Cyberctm.com she would confront Dr Chui with tough questions during his press conference on Monday.

Television footage on Monday confirmed that she posed as a journalist to gain entry to the meeting. She asked Dr Chui about his family's business background and how his brother's company had acquired land from the government at below-market price in 2006. Security guards ushered her out of the meeting. Later, she was hailed as a hero on Web forums.

This month, a group of Macau students also used an internet forum to raise funds for an ad in a campus newspaper that urged people not to forget the bloody 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Eilo Yu Wing-yat, assistant professor of public administration at the University of Macau, said serious concerns about the election inspired Web users to act. 'The message spread by netizens wins public recognition: Macau needs clean government,' Professor Yu said. 'Netizens have extended their campaign to the real world.'

He said there was a lack of channels through which Macau residents could express their political views and vent their frustrations. Mainstream local news media represented people's opinions poorly and the government needed to do a better job in listening to the public, he said.

Legislator Au Kam-san agreed that Macau's social and political structure allowed people few avenues for political expression.

Most Macau news media are government funded.

'Mainstream media have been gatekeepers that promote non-mainstream ideas,' Mr Au said. 'This time, Macau people are trying to break the barrier and look for new channels to express themselves.'

The legislator said residents felt frustrated that they were denied the right to choose their chief executive or express views about him.

A 300-seat committee will elect Macau's chief executive on July 26.

Among five people who have picked up nomination forms, Dr Chui is believed to be the only one with any chance of winning.

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