Macau candidates walk fine line with campaigning

Would-be lawmakers vying for seats in Macau legislature must not court voters until two weeks before poll, but some started earlier

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 7:05am

Campaign vehicles armed with loudspeakers are rolling through the streets of Macau, but some candidates in the coming legislative election are already challenging a grey area of the law that banned them from seeking publicity before the campaign period began on August 31.

Under Macau's legislative election law, campaigning is allowed to start only two weeks before an election. The poll will be held this Sunday.

The Electoral Affairs Commission of Macau stipulates candidates should not carry out activities that could influence voters in the two-month period between their registration and the start of the campaign period.

But a Macau resident, who wanted to be known only as Andy, said one candidate tried to promote himself when treating hundreds of people to a dinner two months ago. "He did not ask us to vote for him in the election, but he showed us videos of him serving the public," he said.

All the people involved belonged to the candidate's support group established two years ago. Andy joined the group to enjoy discounts at a chain of electronics stores and supermarket owned by the candidate.

An employee in one of the city's gaming concerns said posters of another candidate were put in the company's pantry and staff room two months ago. But they did not mention the election.

All employees who had worked there for more than five years were allowed to bring a guest to a free tea gathering recently, he said.

"He talked about how he had contributed to the company over the years," the employee said, adding that several hundred people were at the tea party.

Bill Chou Kwok-ping, an associate professor at the University of Macau's department of government and public administration, said it was unrealistic to ban candidates from promoting themselves before the campaign period. "As long as the candidate did not explicitly say 'please cast a vote for me', it's difficult to say they are campaigning," he said.

There had never been a case of candidates being penalised for promoting themselves before the campaign period and it was not clear what the penalty was.

Eilo Yu Wing-yat, a political scientist at the University of Macau, said the situation was less public than in 2005. "Previously candidates would openly distribute gifts on the streets," he said.