In U-turn, Macau legislature drops bid to ban protest props

Pro-democracy camp claims victory and suggests rivals feared defying public opinion ahead of general elections in September

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 July, 2017, 8:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 July, 2017, 10:51pm

In an abrupt U-turn, a panel of the Macau legislature decided to drop a proposal it had recommended to ban lawmakers from displaying protest props during meetings, hours before it was to be put to a vote at the full council on Thursday.

Activists and pro-democracy lawmakers claimed victory and suggested their rival pro-establishment colleagues did not want to be seen as “going too far” against public opinion in the run-up to the general elections in September.

After a special meeting of the Macau Legislative Assembly’s house rules committee on Thursday morning, the committee decided to withdraw the proposed change.

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“There is a lack of consensus, and more careful consideration should be needed,” a committee statement read. “But, there is not much time left before the Legislative Assembly’s term ends, thus there will not be enough time for more in-depth discussion.”

The assembly’s current term is to end next month.

The ban was among a number of changes to meeting rules endorsed by the house rules committee last month and heavily criticised by pro-democracy lawmakers as disrespecting their “freedom of expression”. Proponents said the ban could maintain the lawmaking body’s “solemnity”.

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It had been thought approval would be a formality, as pro-establishment and conservative lawmakers predominate in the 33-seat legislature. Only three members are affiliated with pro-democracy groups.

Controversy, however, intensified in the past week as the vote neared.

New Macau Association, a pro-democracy group against the proposed ban, described the U-turn as a “small win” in its long battle for a democratic legislature.

It was understood there would not be enough ‘yes’ votes to get the ban passed in the full council meeting
Sulu Sou Ka-hou, New Macau Association

Association vice-president Sulu Sou Ka-hou said: “It was understood there would not be enough ‘yes’ votes to get the ban passed in the full council meeting. So, [the house rules committee] had to drop it in order not to embarrass themselves.”

But Sou, who also planned to run in the September election, claimed the fight had not ended.

“The farce clearly exposes the absurd operation of our legislature,” he said. “Panel meetings are held behind closed doors. Lawmakers do not bother to raise public awareness of sensitive issues in the council.”

“The only way to root out these problems is for us to have a democratic legislature where all members are directly elected and will have to be accountable to the public.”

Pro-democracy lawmaker Au Kam-san, who is keen to display placards during meetings, explained he used them for various purposes to urge the government to build more public housing and introduce universal suffrage.

“There has been no complaint,” he claimed, “I don’t see why they had to make a fuss over it.”

Au also sits on the house rules committee and was the only member not to support the amendment during previous committee meetings.