The 15-day period when candidates for the Legislative Assembly elections are prohibited to promote themselves or their political platform, together with ambiguous definition of what is considered propaganda, are unfair to newcomers to the MSAR political scene, candidates and political analysts have told Business Daily.
Until September 2, candidates for the 2017 AL elections – scheduled for September 17 – are prohibited from performing any kind of act deemed propaganda, a prohibition period that starts the moment all electoral lists are announced by the Electoral Committee.
However, for candidate and assistant Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Macau (UM) Agnes Lam Iok Fong, legislative candidates should be allowed to campaign right after their application is accepted by the Committee.
“It should be natural but the arrangement in Macau is that once you have your list and number
confirmed you’re not allowed to campaign until two weeks before the election,” she told Business Daily.
Ms. Lam is now attempting, for the third time, to win a seat in the Legislative Assembly, having run in 2009 and 2013, and has repeatedly complained to authorities that the campaign period is too short, putting new candidates at a disadvantage to candidates with established political credentials.
A total of 207 candidates will run for 26 of the 33 available seats – with 14 being for direct suffrage and 12 through indirect suffrage – with the remaining seven seats reserved for legislators to be later appointed by the MSAR Chief Executive.
Of the approved candidates, 22 are currently legislators, with 13 competing for direct suffrage and nine through indirect suffrage.
“Experienced candidates are allowed to report to their voters and the citizens what they’ve been doing so they have a lot of advantage,” Ms. Lam told Business Daily.
This view is shared by political analyst and researcher Larry So, who considers that the allowed campaign period is “quite unfair to newcomers”.
“Newcomers will have to compete with those incumbents who already have all kinds of channels to reach the public,” he says.
For the political researcher, once an application is accepted by the committee – until 70 days before the election day when applications for electoral lists can be submitted – candidates should be able to campaign.
Regulations on what is considered campaigning set by the Electoral Committee also discriminate against new candidates, since according to Mr. So they basically allow “candidates to talk about what they did in the past but not what they will do in the future”.
The Electoral Law describes propaganda as ‘any activity that by any means relays a message that directs the public’s attention to one or more candidates; or suggests, expressly or implicitly, that voters should vote or not vote for a candidate or candidates’.
“If we don’t talk about our platform directly we can still do interviews, we can address social issues and reveal our opinion. You can ask me what I think about the housing policy but I can’t talk about my platform. We still have some room to conduct our campaign but not so much room to reach the public and our base,” Ms. Lam told Business Daily.
The candidate believes restrictions should be set on the use of candidates of public spaces and resources for campaigning, “such as squares or advertising on local broadcaster TDM” rather than restricting communication to the candidates’ voters.
“They don’t really explain what they consider propaganda, saying I can communicate with my people (…) You shouldn’t block us from communicating with our voters,” Ms. Lam said.
According to Mr. So, it is common to see candidates describing in promotion materials their role as incumbent legislators, or as honour members or heads of associations.
“They are effectively promoting themselves and their past work. You can say they’re not campaigning but in a way they’re promoting their image and telling the people how good they are. If they don’t mention their political platform, it won’t be considered as promotion. It’s a grey area,” he said. with Lusa
A mixed bag
Almost half of candidates for the Legislative Assembly (AL) elections are not originally from the MSAR, according to the published lists of accepted applications.
Seven candidates of Portuguese descent are included in the 25 direct suffrage electoral lists, with just one among the main candidates.
Of the overall group of candidates, 107 or 51.7 per cent are originally from Macau, 87 or 42 per cent were born in Mainland China, while14 or 6.3 per cent were born in other countries and regions, the majority in Hong Kong but also from Myanmar, Cambodia and Australia.
Women represented 25.1 per cent of the total number of candidates with 52 candidates, with only one candidate through indirect suffrage and with some electoral lists not including any women.
The oldest candidate for the September 17 elections is 79-year old businessman and current
legislator Vítor Cheung Lup Kwan, with the youngest a 20-year old university student.