Legislative Assembly election campaign starts, electioneering subject to COVID-19 measures

2021-08-30 03:54     Comment:0

Macau’s two-week hustings for the direct and indirect Legislative Assembly (AL) elections have started.

Similar to four years ago, this time many of the direct-election lists chose to paste their respective campaign posters on a board provided by the government in Praça do Tap Seac when the election campaign started at 00:00 on Saturday.

The polls consist of the direct election of 14 lawmakers by popular vote and the indirect election of 12 legislators by association representatives.

A total of 14 lists comprising 126 candidates are running in the direct election – nine candidates per seat up for grabs.

The direct and indirect elections will take place on Sunday, September 12.

The indirect election is a fait accompli as there are only 12 candidates for the 12 seats at stake.

Macau’s legislative elections are based on the proportional representation system. There are no political parties in Macau. Customarily, community organisations set up ad hoc candidacy lists in the run-up to the elections that are held every four years.

The chief executive appoints seven lawmakers after the direct and indirect elections. Of the legislature’s 33 members (“deputies”), 42.4 percent are directly elected by universal suffrage, 36.4 percent are indirectly elected by association representatives, and 21.2 percent are appointed by the chief executive.

The legislature’s 12 indirectly-elected seats comprise four seats representing the city’s industrial, commercial and financial sector, three seats from the professional sector, two seats from the labour sector, two seats from the cultural and sports sector, and one seat from the social services and educational sector.

Permanent residents aged 18 and over have the right to vote and be elected, irrespective of nationality.

In the run-up to the elections, 20 candidates from six direct-election lists were disqualified by the Legislative Assembly Electoral Affairs Commission (CAEAL) in early July for failing to uphold the Macau Basic Law or having been disloyal to the Macau Special Administrative Region (MSAR). The 20 disqualified candidates comprised all 15 candidates of three lists from the so-called “pro-democracy” or “non-establishment” camp, and five candidates from three other lists. In addition to the three “pro-democracy” lists, the commission also rejected two of the other three lists in their entirety because both of them had fewer than the officially required minimum of candidates (four) after certain candidates had been disqualified. However, the commission accepted the Ou Mun Kong I (“Macau Righteousness”) list as it still had the required minimum of four candidates after two of its candidates were disqualified.

The three “pro-democracy” lists decided to appeal to the Court of Final Appeal (TUI) against the commission’s decision. However, the appeals by the three lists were turned down by the city’s top court on July 31.

Consequently, the number of electoral lists taking part in the direct election this time has decreased to 14 from 19, which initially had fielded 159 candidates before the commission’s disqualifications.

Among the 126 direct-election candidates, eight are incumbent legislators seeking re-election.

In the 2017 direct election, a total of 25 lists (one of which withdrew before polling day) vied for the 14 seats at stake.

This year’s direct election sees the lowest number of candidacy lists since the establishment of the MSAR, which held its first direct legislative election in 2001.

The Electoral Affairs Commission has set aside 18 public venues for the election campaign which ends at 11:59 p.m. on September 10. Campaigning is not allowed on the eve of the elections.

The commission has imposed strict COVID-19 prevention and control measures on the campaign activities such as crowd management.

For instance, only up to 10 representatives from each candidacy list were allowed to enter a COVID-19 control and management area in Praça do Tap Seac at around 00:00 on Saturday when the lists pasted their respective campaign posters on the board.

Observers have noted that compared to the elections four years ago the mood during this year’s direct election campaign can be expected to be dampened by the COVID-19 prevention and control measures.

Speaking to reporters in Praça do Tap Seac shortly after the start of the election campaign, Tong Hio Fong, who heads the commission, said that the campaigning activities there had been carried out “in an orderly manner” in line with the government’s COVID-19 crowd control measures. Tong declined to comment on whether the voter turnout will be impacted by the COVID-19 situation and the disqualification of certain candidates.

Article 68 of the Macau Basic Law states that the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly “shall be elected”.

Macau has an executive-led political system. Lawmakers’ bills relating to government policies require the chief executive’s written consent before they can be submitted to the legislature, according to Article 75 of the Macau Basic Law.

Representatives of direct and indirect election lists paste their campaign posters on a board in Praça do Tap Seac at around 00:00 on Saturday when the 14-day election campaign started. Photo: MPDG

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