AL electoral law amendments pass final reading

The new law imposes stricter scrutiny on candidates’ political stances

To be qualified to run for a seat in next year’s Legislative Assembly election, candidates will have to declare their loyalty to the MSAR and that they will uphold the city’s Basic Law, apart from paying a guarantee deposit of MOP25,000 (US$3,125).
These amendments to the city’s current Legislative Assembly electoral law passed their final reading at the legislature last Friday.
Pan-democratic legislators Antonio Ng Kuok Cheong and Au Kam San both queried whether the addition of the declaration of loyalty to the MSAR and the Basic Law is necessary, criticising that there is no point for the MSAR government to add the means used by Hong Kong for resolving its political fights to the city’s own law.
“These amendments are now introduced to Macau following their use in other places for their political conflicts, which are totally unnecessary,” said Ng.
Au Kam San opined similarly: “it is known that one must be loyal to the MSAR and uphold the Basic Law. Adding these to a law is the same as holding a candle to the sun.”
But the arguments of the two pan-democrats did not gain support at the Assembly. Directly-elected legislator Kwan Tsui Hang perceives these additions to the law will prevent the city from having similar political disputes as those in Hong Kong.
“It is not necessary for us to follow Hong Kong. And we don’t want to follow Hong Kong,” said the unionist legislator. “But that’s also the exact reason why we should learn from what happened in Hong Kong. One Country Two Systems is a long journey. No one can predict what will happen in the future,” she added.
A few other members also expressed their support for the addition of the loyalty declaration, including the Chief–executive appointed legislators Dominic Sio Chi Wai, Tommy Lau Veng Seng, and Ma Chi Seng, in addition to directly-elected member Mak Soi Kun.
Meanwhile, Secretary for Administration Sonia Chan Hoi Fan denied that the MSAR is blindly copying Hong Kong’s political means.
These “political conflicts” in Hong Kong refer to two pro-independence legislators, Yau Wai Ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung, who were kicked out of the Legislative Council after their oaths were challenged by the Hong Kong government and were deemed invalid by the top court of the neighbouring SAR. The incident also triggered the National People’s Congress Standing Committee to issue an interpretation of the Hong Kong Basic Law in October.
On the other hand, the amendments to the law also regulate an individual from being allowed to run for election if there are facts proving their disloyalty to the MSAR.
Legislator Au and Legislator José Perriera Coutinho both expressed their concerns about this new article of the electoral law, asking whether incumbent legislators’ votes against a government bill related to the issue would later be used as an evidence of their “disloyalty”.
But the Secretary claimed legislators vetoing a bill would not be deemed as a fact proving their disloyalty to the city, indicating that legislators have the power given by the law to cast a vote in favour or against decisions, based on their own will.
The newly passed bill also stipulates that if a legislator quits their position, they will be banned from running any re-election campaign for the legislature for 180 days following their resignation.
Despite Legislator Ng’s request to put these two articles to a separate vote, the articles were passed with only three votes cast against - from Antonio Ng Kuok Cheong, Au Kam San and José Perreira Coutinho.

Another article put forward for a separate vote was the addition of a guarantee deposit system, which mandates election candidates submit a MOP25,000 deposit when they join the election. The amount will be retained by the government if the candidate does not get a certain number of votes.
Legislator Au pointed out this new scheme would restrict grass-roots or poor groups from running in elections.
This view was reiterated by Coutinho, who noted that: “the Basic Law mandates every citizen has the right to elect and be elected. As I raised during the discussion for the first reading, I don’t understand the reason why the government is adding this article to the law,” he said.
Secretary Chan explained the establishment of the deposit system aims to enhance the credibility and the seriousness of the election. “This is because the whole society would need to put a huge amount of resources into each election,” said the official.
But this triggered “a strong objection” from legislator Au, saying that: “I can’t accept [this explanation]. I can’t agree that a candidate group is deemed not credible when they cannot afford to pay this amount of deposit.”
Mr. Coutinho again echoed Au’s comments, saying: “how can we judge one’s seriousness [in the election] by the amount of MOP25,000?” He added the reason explained by the government official for the new regulation is humiliating to the poor.
Nevertheless, lawyer and CE-appointed legislator Vong Hin Fai noted that this deposit system has also been implemented in Hong Kong for its Legislative Council elections. Another member of the assembly, with a legal background, Gabriel Tong Hio Cheng, added that this deposit system has also been implemented in many other places.
“I believe this regulation will make interested parties evaluate their situation before joining the election […] This will allow candidates to analyse whether they can gain support from voters,” the law professor said.
The amendments to the electoral law, passed on its first reading in August this year, hinge on four key components being altered: regulating electoral campaign activities; reinforcing the combat of electoral offences; improving the work of the electoral body; and improving the requirements for candidacy and the provisions for the incompatibility of legislators.

2017 budget plan passed
Last week’s plenary session also unanimously gave final approval to the city’s budget plan for next fiscal year. The budget plan projects a total fiscal surplus for the MSAR Government of MOP7.2 billion, a plunge of 60.4 per cent compared to the budgeted MOP18.2 billion for this fiscal year. Total revenue is expected to reach MOP102.9 billion, a decrease from the MOP103.3 billion budgeted for 2016, whilst total expenses for the year are projected to be MOP95.7 billion, an increase of 12.6 per cent from this year’s MOP85 billion. In particular, revenue derived from direct taxes – of which the majority is generated by gaming taxes – is projected to reach MOP80.1 billion, a slight growth of 1.6 per cent year-on-year, whilst expenses allocated for the public investment plan, known as PIDDA, will increase 37.8 per cent year-on-year to MOP15.3 billion for next year. No legislator spoke on the budget plan during the session.