Exclusion from pro-democracy camp left Macau population without ‘escape valve’
The exclusion of the pro-democracy camp from parliamentary elections a year ago has left Macau with “no escape valve” for the population’s growing dissatisfaction during the current Covid-19 surge, one of the disqualified candidates said.
On July 9, 2021, the commission managing the Legislative Assembly (LA) elections excluded five lists and 21 candidates, 15 of them pro-democracy, for “not upholding the Basic Law of the Macau SAR [Macao Special Administrative Region]” and not being “loyal to the Macau SAR.” The decision sidelined the pro-democracy camp, which held four seats in the AL, leaving the parliament with only two voices most critical of the government, including Portugal’s José Pereira Coutinho.
“The oversight mission that the Legislative Assembly should have has completely disappeared,” Leon Ieong, a professor of politics at the University of Macau, told Lusa. The AL “is now playing the role of a loyal opposition,” countered Sonny Lo Shiu-Hing.
The political commentator told Lusa that pro-democracy MPs “were incisive in identifying issues and politicians,” but assured that “it is still possible to hear different voices” in parliament. Giving as an example the new law regulating the gambling industry, Sonny Lo argued that “MPs discussed the proposal rationally and thoroughly and there was some criticism from the government.”
One of the excluded pro-democracy candidates, Scott Chiang Meng Hin, disagrees: “The casino law was passed in a relatively short period, with little discussion and huge consequences. I don’t see how parliament had any role in a landmark decision for Macau.” The activist told Lusa that there are still more critical deputies in AL, but that “the environment has completely changed and their work has become more difficult.”
“Current deputies naturally tend to be more cautious than before in their actions and comments in public, because if they are openly critical, they may risk disqualification,” Sonny Lo admitted. Several MPs contacted by Lusa declined to comment on the impact of the exclusion from the pro-democracy camp. Caution is even more necessary for “potential future candidates or disqualified candidates,” Sonny Lo added.
Also Leon Ieong said he believes that some of the excluded candidates in 2021 may compete in future elections, with the “precondition that they demonstrate their loyalty.”
“According to the usual mentality of Chinese politics, the terms
enemy' andfriend’ are relative and changeable,” the academic explained. Something that will not change, Leon said, is the certainty that, “as in the case of Hong Kong, Macau now has political censorship.” In addition, the academic stressed, the absence of a real opposition “will also create extra difficulties for the government to receive society’s opinions.”
Read also: Democracy in the SAR is a work in progress
“The 30 years of the pro-democracy movement in Macau were an absolute failure, but at least we were pretty good as an outlet for people’s concerns,” said Scott Chiang. An absence that has become more acute during the current Covid-19 outbreak, the activist added. “People feel very frustrated, they are on the edge of sanity,” he said. Despite the ban on demonstrations due to the pandemic, last week there was a protest by construction workers, prevented from returning home, in the nearby city of Zhuhai.
“It is impossible to stop a protest if people are angry enough. In time, there will be other forms of opposition. In that sense, I am optimistic,” Scott said.
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