The organizers of the unofficial referendum say that the government’s statements on its alleged illegality are “verbal intimidation.”
Last Saturday, a government spokesperson said that the proposed civil referendum is unconstitutional, after calling it “illegal” and “invalid” earlier last week. The official statement issued later stressed that there is no “civil referendum” in the country’s constitution and that those who propose the initiative are acting against the law. But the organizers said that the government welcomes any groups who conduct opinion polls.
Three groups announced the establishment of an electoral affairs commission on the civil referendum on the Chief Executive Election, which will take place at the end of August.
Jason Chao, a member of the commission, commented yesterday that the government reacted “in an adversary manner” towards the civil referendum.
“Although the civil referendum has no legal effect, it has political effects. (…) If the government has an article (in law) saying the civil referendum is illegal, just tell us the article. The words from Alexis Tam seemed like just verbal intimidation to us.”
Jason Chao said that he would welcome pro-establishment groups joining the referendum, and only hopes that they would allow individuals to vote themselves. “Residents may think that they need a right to participate in such a simulation on civil referendum. But the pro-establishment groups should respect the residents. I know some groups own a copy of residents’ ID cards. I hope that these groups will give the right of autonomy back to the individuals, instead of taking these ID copies to disturb the voting system.”
A public consultation was held by the group yesterday near the Red Market to discuss the wording in the two motions proposed in the referendum, as well as whether the age limit for eligible voters should be lowered to 16 or remain at the age of 18.
One resident, who graduated from a pro-government school, asked what measures the group would take to promote citizen education if the age limit is lowered to 16, which would allow high school students to vote. “I feel that civil education is relatively weak for students. What they are taught about civil education is too basic and not related to the situations in Macau. After the referendum, if students aged 16 or above are allowed to vote on social issues and government policies, what will you do to guarantee more content on citizen education?”
Scott Chiang, a member of the electoral affairs commission on the civil referendum, responded: “We are proposing that based on the assumption that after a certain age, one should own basic awareness of some issues and be responsible for one’s behavior. (…) Therefore it doesn’t mean that everyone within the age scope can meet these criteria. We are endowing the trust to the younger generation – they could speak for the future issues that related to them.”
One of yesterday’s consultation participants, surnamed Choi, said that the organizers should provide clear definitions of “survey” and “civil referendum.” According to Choi, a survey is a passive interview while a referendum is an exertion of civil rights – it demands that residents stand out and cast a vote. He also suggested that the organizers should explain to the public their reasons for choosing this time to hold a referendum. “Besides the mass rally, are there any persuasive points to demonstrate that it is the right time?”
But Choi insisted that the campaign is relevant. “There has not been a route for development of the political system since the establishment of the MSAR 15 years ago. It is important for us to draft the route.”
Gov’t stance may backfire on the younger generation, scholar says
Commenting on the repeated statements issued by the government regarding the alleged illegality of the democracy referendum, some scholars have said that the government’s stance might have the opposite effect, especially amongst young residents. Hao Zhidong, professor at the University of Macau, told TDM that Beijing wants to dissuade people from participating in the referendum, but that this intent might backfire, particularly amongst the younger generation. He explained that, “as far as the older generation is concerned, they tend to be more patriotic and follow whatever the community leaders tell them to do. But the young people are more politically conscious and rebellious. They tend to be critical and should be critical.” António Katchi, jurist and professor at the Macau Polytechnic Institute, expressed the opinion that there is nothing illegal about the pro-democracy groups’ initiative: “If there was any article that would forbid this act I can certainly say it would be unconstitutional, as it would imply an excessive restriction on the freedom of speech, violating certain principles applied to the restriction of rights, liberties and guarantees,” he said. Eric Sautede, commentator and dismissed professor, wrote in his recent Times column: “In the eyes of the MSAR government, this political stunt is thus clearly seen as a provocation, and the ‘illegal’ characterization can then be understood as a condemnation of a perceived attempt to discredit the official result by resorting to a non-legally binding substitutive method of designation.”