Chief Executive claims election disqualifications do not curtail freedom of speech
Reporters put tough questions to Ho Iat Seng about apparent shifts in government policy; three Lists launch case at Court of Final Appeal.
Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng declared yesterday that residents’ freedom of speech “hasn’t been curtailed at all” after 20 candidates were disqualified from running in this September’s election to the Legislative Assembly (AL).
The chief executive added that disqualifying the candidates aimed to ensure that all members of governing bodies, including the AL, meet the government’s requirement that they must be patriots.
Ho was speaking to reporters at the Venetian in Cotai after attending the opening ceremony of the 12th International Infrastructure Investment and Construction Forum.
Reporters pointed out to Ho that he had previously said that all the current lawmakers love the country and Macao, and asked why the Legislative Assembly Electoral Affairs Commission has determined that a number of incumbent lawmakers, who are among the disqualified candidates, have failed to uphold the Macao Basic Law or have been disloyal to Macao.
Ho said that the government needed to respect the decision made by the commission which had set up seven criteria to assess whether the candidates nominated by their respective Lists met all the benchmarks.
Ho said Macao needs to strengthen its work to ensure the full implementation of the “patriots governing Macao” principle and the central government’s overall jurisdiction over the SAR.
When asked whether the fact that two disqualified candidates are incumbent legislators appeared to contradict the fact that they were qualified to run in the elections four years ago, Ho said that they do not contradict each other, as “different systems can be set up at different stages of time”. Ho said that people are qualified to run in the legislative elections at a particular time as long as they meet the official candidacy qualification requirement for that time.
Ho underlined that it is not the case that the commission has amended its candidacy qualification criteria “at will”.
He said that the Constitution’s amendments in 2018 formalised the Communist Party of China’s position as the country’s ruling party, adding that every Chinese person must obey the nation’s Constitution. “If you are not Chinese, you can choose not to obey the Constitution,” he said.
Reporters pointed out that when the government proposed amendments to the legislative election law in 2016, the then secretary for administration and justice, Sónia Chan Hoi Fan, said that the then proposed requirement to uphold the Macao Basic Law and bear allegiance to the SAR would not apply to what potential legislative election candidates had previously done.
But now, the reporters noted, the Legislative Assembly Electoral Affairs Commission used evidence about what the disqualified candidates had done previously. Ho replied that he needed to respect the commission’s decision. He noted that the legislative election law was amended in 2016, but “the landscape has been constantly changing”.
“It’s not the case that the government has gone back on its word,” Ho said.
Ho said that the commission’s decision to disqualify 20 candidates does not curtail residents’ freedom of speech. “There’s no problem for residents to tell the government off, and residents will not be held accountable for saying anything,” Ho said.
Ho insisted that the government should accept criticism if its performance is not good enough.
He underlined that the commission assessed the candidates’ qualifications in line with the seven benchmarks, because of which, he said, it’s not the case that telling off the government would disqualify anyone from running in the legislative elections.
“The executive, legislature and judiciary are governing bodies, and we hope that all members of the governing bodies will meet our requirements,” Ho said.
In related news, three “pro-democracy” Lists – the Democratic Prosperous Macao Association, the New Macao Progressives and the New Macao Progressive Association – appealed to the Court of Final Appeal yesterday against the commission’s decision to disqualify their candidates. Macao’s top court has six days to rule on the appeals, The Macau Daily Post reported.