Macau revises electoral law to fight corruption, but doubts raised over effectiveness

Legislation also requires 25,000 MOP security deposit from candidates and compels them to register campaign activities 25 days before holding them

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 11:22pm

As Hong Kong prepares for legislative elections next month, neighbouring Macau this week approved a revised electoral law but not without triggering a chorus of criticism.

Some members of Macau’s Legislative Assembly expressed discontent the legislation did not include a timetable for universal suffrage, while others called it a “gag law” more suitable for dictatorships like North Korea’s. The government argued the changes it introduced were meant to enhance transparency.

Macau Secretary for Administration and Justice Sonia Chan Hoi-fan said on Tuesday the amendments aimed to ensure that the election process would be conducted with integrity and fairness.

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Lawmaker Jose Pereira Coutinho, one of four lawmakers who voted against the proposal, told the Post that fighting corruption in the electoral process “should not mean diminishing fundamental rights such as freedom of expression”.

The new law is designed to stem electoral offences and focuses on the work of the electoral commission and candidate requirements. Its specifics are currently being discussed and are to be voted on in the coming months.

This would be normal in places like North Korea
Jose Pereira Coutinho, Macau lawmaker

It stipulates that those who wish to campaign for a candidate must register in advance and that campaign activities must be declared 25 days before they take place.

“This would be normal in places like North Korea,” Coutinho said, adding the new law would add bureaucracy to the electoral process.

“The intention is to limit freedom of speech of certain lists that influence and mobilise people during the campaign period,” he said.

Lists of candidates, instead of political parties, are typically formed for elections in Macau.

If the legislation remains as the government proposes, those who wish to stand for election must pay a security deposit of 25,000 MOP. Previously, no fee existed.

Coutinho said the requirements would be ineffectual against corruption. Instead, he said, “they should look into those who offer dinners, campaign inside casinos and distribute discounts for supermarkets”.

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Pro-democracy lawmakers Au Kam-san and Ng Kuok-cheong criticised the legislation for lacking a timetable to achieve universal suffrage and for not proposing that a greater number of lawmakers be elected by universal suffrage.

Jason Chao Teng-hei, president of the pro-democracy New Macau Association, described the overall direction of the law as good but failing to implement measures that could effectively crack down on electoral fraud.

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“Associations that receive public money and corporations, without exception, should not be allowed to enrol as campaign supporters,” he said.

Eilo Yu Wing-yat, an associate professor at the University of Macau’s government and public administration department, was also sceptical. “I don’t think it will be a big help [in combating electoral fraud] as it will depend on the ability of government agencies to enforce the law,” he said.

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Electoral laws in the former Portuguese enclave were last revised in 2012. At that time, the size of the chief executive’s electoral college went from 300 to 400 members. In addition, 2012 saw the introduction of two more seats for both directly and indirectly elected legislators.

Eligible voters in Macau can directly elect 14 of the legislature’s 33 lawmakers. Of the remaining lawmakers, 12 are indirectly elected and seven are appointed by the chief executive. Macau’s next legislative elections are scheduled to be held in September next year.