Insight | Authoritarianism and paranoia

Paulo Barbosa

1. As I pen this down, it would be too early to comment on the legislative election results, but it is possible to comment on the campaign. Comparing with previous elections, there was less enthusiasm around it. That may be because people don’t believe in the accountability of the system and feel that their vote is worthless, given that they are electing a minority of lawmakers. On the other hand, citizens may be tired of the shameful episodes in parliament involving several lawmakers. And there are an increasing number of people who simply don’t care anyway, smartphones provided.

Other contributors to voter apathy relate to the crackdown on “free dinners” and other compensatory campaign activities undertaken in previous elections. As a result, many appear to feel discouraged about participating. Only the ones with a direct interest in the election – such as members of associations expecting benefits if their preferred candidate gets elected – wear the numbered t-shirts and raise the campaign flags. 

On the side of the candidates, the campaign was poor with the “same old” proposals. Most candidates ignore the scope of the lawmaker role in Macau, which is very limited. They should verify the government’s role instead of presenting proposals pretending to be the government.

In some aspects, the new electoral law and its interpretation by the Electoral Affairs Commission for the Legislative Assembly Election (CAEAL) did not contribute to the fairness of the election. Unwillingly – I prefer to believe – they intimidated journalists and even the common citizen. They seemed to be more concerned with minor technicalities than with serious breaches to election fairness. When schools asked parents to support candidates, CAEAL said that it was not illegal, because those schools are private.

Regarding interviews published in the pre-campaign period, a bilingual newspaper was even notified to remove an interview.

“It is perplexing that news content, such as an interview, can be considered electoral propaganda,” the Portuguese and English Press Association reacted, adding that freedom of press should be fully respected in all instances and at all times.

To demonstrate a good practice, local elections will be held in October in Portugal, where the media is full of interviews with candidates.

2. What would one impartial observer think if Macau journalists or lawmakers who defend universal suffrage (or any lawmaker for that matter) were barred from entering Hong Kong due to internal security issues?

Most likely the observer would think that the “one country, two systems” principle was being completely undermined and that the HKSAR was becoming a farce.

The arbitrary use of the law destroys the credibility of any administration. It is a matter of fact, but also of public perception. After several incidents with Hong Kong lawmakers and citizens barred without explanation at the local borders, the perception here and elsewhere is that the damage done to the image of Macau is irreversible. Just to give an example, here is what Yonden Lhatoo, the chief news editor at the South China Morning Post, thinks about the MSAR: “Let’s face it, apart from its casino economy and vestiges of Portuguese colonial culture, Macau is just another Chinese city. Its government operates on a level of authoritarianism and paranoia that would never fly in Hong Kong. That’s why it can arbitrarily detain our reporters and photographers when we send them across to cover news, declaring them ‘threats’ to security, whatever that means.”

Are local authorities blind to common sense? Do they honestly believe that trying to prevent journalists who intend to cover the consequences of Typhoon Hato will somehow work in their favor? If they do, the strategy failed. Their ill-preparedness became evident in many reports published or broadcast outside Macau. Just to give an example, watch TVB’s “Pearl Report” program covering the tragedy, which kicks off with the anchor Diana Lin asking, “what is happening to Macau?” The program exposes the many flaws uncovered by Hato, from the weather forecasting system, to flood prevention or the lack of a proper civil protection agency. 

Categories Macau Opinion