Macau’s most high-profile political activist has said that this year’s “smear campaign” against democrats running for the Legislative Assembly is the worst he has ever seen.
Political activist and former AL candidate Jason Chao told the Times yesterday that while helping out as a volunteer for the New Macau Progressives this month, he has witnessed “the most oppressive smear campaign against them.”
“Smear campaigns against New Macau [are conducted] in every election, but this time, the extent of the oppression is the worst it has ever been,” added Chao, who was president of the association between 2010 and 2014.
The oppression, say advocates of democracy, takes the form of online rumors concerning their candidate-
lawmakers, as well as a disproportionate tendency for democrats to be targeted by law enforcement authorities.
Democrats in Macau have long complained about the unfair treatment of their campaign activities by election and municipal authorities. They claim that authorities are encouraged to go after democrat associations, but have a greater tolerance for the wrongdoings of pan-establishment groups.
Former lawmaker Paul Chan, the second candidate on Sulu Sou’s New Macau Progressives list, was reportedly taken in for questioning by the police this week after an unknown person allegedly put up a campaign flag on a public fence in Fai Chi Kei. He is potentially facing charges of aggravated disobedience on the basis of violating election campaign rules.
Earlier this week, the Court of Final Appeal slammed the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau for preventing the New Macau Progressives from holding certain campaign events on the basis of an administrative technicality that judicial authorities quickly ruled irrelevant.
While the Commission Against Corruption has announced a probe into vote-buying dinners allegedly linked to prominent pro-establishment lawmakers (more on p3), the Electoral Affairs Commission for the Legislative Assembly Election (CAEAL) said it would not investigate three private schools that sent letters to parents lobbying for a preferred candidate.
It is also refusing to look into a personal attack made against democrat lawmaker Pereira Coutinho by pro-establishment lawmaker Song Pek Kei during a televised debate on TDM last week. During the heated exchange, Song accused Coutinho of being unable to handle family affairs after his two sons were arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking, and of failing them as a father.
Chao, who at the start of the month appraised the conduct of the CAEAL in its election monitoring duties, said that “it gets overly tough” during the later stages of the campaign.
”The degree of law enforcement is reaching the point of violating political and civil rights, including freedom of expression,” he warned.
New Macau is by far the most radical and outspoken group of the major associations comprising the so-called ‘pan-democrat camp’ in the MSAR.
Unlike in neighboring Hong Kong, the scarcity of democrats in Macau means that only two major political forces can be considered pro-democratic. Centrist candidates that are sympathetic to calls for greater suffrage do not belong to the pan-establishment camp, but it is equally hard to box them in with the democrats.
“I have doubts about the representation of the pan-democratic camp,” Chao said yesterday.
He proposed that it was less a case of voters choosing pro-democrats, and more a case of them electing lawmakers who later turn out to be democrats. Voters often remain loyal to the same lawmakers or candidates without considering if they are in favor of greater democratization, he argued.
“Legislators are elected by people who share a particular background, regardless of whether they happen to be a promoter of democracy of not.”
As in the previous Legislative Assembly election in 2013, veteran pro-democratic lawmakers Ng Kuok Cheong and Au Kam San are each running on their own list on Sunday, while the younger members of the New Macau clan have entered their own electoral ticket under the name, New Macau Progressives.
In 2013, both Au and Ng retained their seats with a large margin, while former New Macau presidents Jason Chao and Scott Chiang fell considerably short of securing even one seat.
Meanwhile, a matter of 32 votes enabled Coutinho’s New Hope to pick up a second seat in the legislature at the expense of Angela Leong’s New Union for Macau’s Development.
Chao won’t share election prediction
During an interview with the Times yesterday, political activist Jason Chao expressed a reluctance to share his prediction for Sunday’s election. “It is not safe to share my prediction [for the election results], because it is not allowed, under the electoral rules, to conduct or share a survey,” he said, “and I am not sure whether this would be interpreted [by electoral authorities] as violating those rules. […] As always, I recommend considering past words and actions of all candidates before voters cast their ballots.” Two weeks ago, Chao launched a new website to serve as a database for social media posts made by electoral candidates so that the public can evaluate candidates’ records before casing their ballots. “This will help local citizens to know [whether] their words [match] their actions,” he told the Times earlier this month.