Eric Sautedé: Electoral Commission “the biggest loser” in the race

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Issue 825, Page 1, 10 – 11
Word count: 2767
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Although the direct legislative election results were still waiting to be verified yesterday, people could already get an idea of which 12 candidates are going to win the battle.

Yet to political analyst Eric Sautedé, the results are not the most significant, instead what caught him by surprise are the failure to improve the cleanliness of the election and the powerless of the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC).

Speaking to the Macau Daily Times at the Inter-University Institute (IIUM), Mr Sautedé criticised the inability of the EAC to combat malpractices during the election and campaign.

He also talked about why the Macao Federation of Trade Unions was able to gather nearly 15 percent of the total votes cast, whilst the General Union of Neighbourhood Associations, being the oldest and largest social service organisation in Macau, lost the second seat this year.

Even though Chan Meng Kam said last week that he was “very confident” in the election, it turned out that the number of votes his list obtained were down by 18 percent when compared to the last election in 2005.

Mr Sautedé, who is also the director of publications and coordinator of research at IIUM, believed that the most likely explanation was Angela Leong On Kei, who reportedly received 21 percent more votes than last time, managed to convince some of Chan Meng Kam’s supporters to change their mind.

In addition, he told the MDTimes how Au Kam San was affected by the scandals just right before the election day.

Reporter: To what extent are the election results out of expectations?

Eric Sautedé: First, regarding turnout rate which was close to 60 percent of the people voted this time, this is pretty close to the expectation. A survey we ran in April said it would be 66 percent. But if we weighed the population according to the census, it could be in fact 60 percent.

This was a higher turnout than last time [in 2005] which shows that there is a commitment of Macau people to use their rights to vote. It is one of the good aspects of the election.

In terms of results, I guess it came as a surprise that the list of the Macao Federation of Trade Unions [UPD] came first as a single list, so as the fact that their number of votes did increase a lot by 27 percent when compared to 2005.

It was also surprising to see Chan Meng Kam’s list get 18 percent lesser voters than last time since List 7 had been one of the most active and mostly seen lists during the campaign, and given the fact that he owns many property of different interests in the city. The reduction in the number of votes is an indication that he might not be able to mobilise his troops as he used to be. It might also be the fact that Angela Leong On Kei for List 10 did get a high increase of 21 percent in the number of votes obtained this year. I guess one of the main reasons why Chan Meng Kam went down was quite significantly Angela Leong did go up. There was a pretty big fight between them.

On the other hand, it is within the expectation that the two lists of democrats gathered the highest number of votes [in total of 27,446].

Although I wasn’t completely convinced by the strategy of splitting [in an attempt to get four seats]…splitting is good based on the current electoral system, but they gave no clear instructions to their voters for which one [Au Kam San or Ng Kuok Cheong] they should vote. Yet at the end they were right not to give any instructions because if they evenly split the votes, either Au or Ng might not have enough votes to get the second candidate elected, and so they might have ended up with two seats only. This time they managed to get more seats than the number of votes in terms of proportion, which shows that their strategy is pretty valid.

The second highest votes gathered was Jose Pereira Coutinho in terms of increase – 29 percent more than last time, which is the second best increase in the number of votes in this election, followed by the democrats of around 30 percent [after combining the two lists].

Even though Rita Santos [the second candidate of Coutinho’s list] wasn’t elected, but the fact that he got 12,902 votes shows that he is able to mobilise people beyond his union of civil servants.

Also, the third seat for the democrats was won over “Kai Fong” [List 13 UPP], this was also expected. Basically “Kai Fong” lost one seat in favour of the democrats. Of course this time Melinda Chan Mei Yi, the wife of David Chow Kam Fai, did better than her husband back in 2005, at the same time she was the last one to get elected.

Civil Watch led by Agnes Lam Iok Fong was also doing well. Although she wasn’t elected for the first time, she did a good job at being clean during the campaign and able to get this number of votes [5,329]. There is room for the middle-class, educated and young people to find representatives. It could have been a surprise if she got elected.

Basically the winners are the democrats, with one more seat than the previous time…the election results are more on the conservative side of the prediction.

Yet, one of the most striking things is either the lack of ability or the lack of power of the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) – the incapability to prevent malpractices. Yesterday [September 20] on two local Chinese newspapers’ front pages there were advertisements placed by two lists. You can see that the EAC isn’t doing its job. Also all those publicity posters being posted in so-called private property was playing the grey areas of the law. Allowing voters to be taken by free transportation [provided by the lists] was really a contradiction to the new design which was having a polling station near your home. This is wrong for the EAC to authorise that [free transportation services] and it gave a very bad message.

On top of that you have 6,539 invalid votes [representing nearly 4.4 percent of the total number of votes cast], which are being recounted now [yesterday afternoon], it’s close to two percentage point more than in 2005. But this time voters used a simpler method which was a stamp to mark the ballots, so normally there should have fewer problems and fewer percentage points of invalid votes.

Obviously some polling stations had different interpretations of what was an invalid vote. The EAC left room for interpretations for the heads of the polling stations was also a very bad message.

The staff were not given standard guidelines of how to define an invalid vote.

But I guess the biggest loser in this election is the EAC. It was announced that fighting against electoral corruption would be one of the top priorities. I was invited [to attend a free banquet] even though I didn’t vote. Letting candidates organise events in big auditoriums with pop starts from Hong Kong for more than 1.5 million patacas a night when the cap on campaign spending was eight million patacas is also something that’s not right. Obviously there is something wrong in the operation of the EAC.

I’m not saying that they are incompetent, but there is clearly a lack of capacity to enforce clean elections, which shouldn’t be the case.

R: But is it also the responsibility of the Commission Against Corruption (CCAC)?

Mr Sautedé: Yes, sure. But when it comes to malpractices, it’s the responsibility of the EAC. It’s very difficult to characterise from the criminal point of view corruption and vote buying. Inviting people to free banquets if you’re a supporter, this is very hard to be characterised. Before it really becomes a [corruption] case for the CCAC, there must be something for the EAC to say “if you don’t stop the malpractices at the end of the day, you’re out of the campaign”. They [EAC] should have greater power to exclude the worst type of malpractices.

In addition, pre-campaigning exists everywhere. The fact that people declare what they stand for isn’t really campaigning. Candidates are less political right than any regular citizens, because they can’t talk about their preferences before the campaign. For example Agnes Lam was told she couldn’t write for the newspapers until the election was over. The EAC was very keen in trying to be very strict on the pre-campaigning regulations, but then when it came to the campaign, all of a sudden they couldn’t cope because they were so many malpractices that they couldn’t do anything anymore.

R: What made List UPP represented by “Kai Fong” (General Union of the Neighbourhood Associations) and the Women’s Association lose the second seat this time?

Mr Sautedé: “Kai Fong” is paying for a lack of commitments when it comes to social issues in the legislature. For that, the Federation of Trade Unions (List 12 UPD) has been far better. They [incumbent directly elected lawmakers of UPD, Kwan Tsui Hang and Leong Iok Wa] had taken stance for such as old people, education and employment very often and very consistent to show that they really cared about Macau people’s social welfare.

This is in line with the worries of Macau people regarding social issues and livelihood.

The role of “Kai Fong” in society is becoming less and less relevant for people to go to the neighbourhood associations to voice their concern.

I guess there is less need now for the government to have an intermediary organisation like “Kai Fong”. I’m sure UPP is also paying for a lack of visibility when it comes to expressing themselves in the legislature [referring to incumbent directly elected lawmakers of UPP, Leong Heng Teng and Iong Weng Ian], especially in comparison to the UPD which is much more present.

R: Do you believe if all those scandals did not happen in Au Kam San’s list right before the election, he would be able to gain more votes?

Mr Sautedé: Yes, I will definitely say that. It’s really very difficult to explain why this happened in the last few days of the campaign [Ng Seng Fong was found to have been sentenced to three years and three months for fraud and forgery]. It did have an impact as Ng Kuok Cheong and Au Kam San have been portraying themselves as Mr Clean.

In contrast, Au was also accused of having taken away the donations for the June Fourth vigils and being a supporter of Falun Gong, but I don’t think all these really played a role in the mind of the people. Ng and Au are the only ones doing the candlelight vigil in Macau which is a very small event with 20 to 40 participants, there is not much money you can make out of it.

R: How about the multicultural list Plural Voices of Macau, what’s wrong with them?

Mr Sautedé: They got 905 votes. Last time José Luis de Sales Marques the former mayor of Macau gathered 892 votes, which was pretty much the same as Plural Voices. It’s good to show that there is diversity but personally speaking I don’t believe in community-based voting. It’s better to have someone from the mainstream to recognise the need to bring in minority as being part of the identity of a place.

I’m not sure if the Plural Voices candidates would be the best promoter of the idea of diversity in Macau. Portuguese speaking heritage and cultural diversity is of course important, but I think it would be best said by someone from the mainstream and appealing to not only a single tiny community but to the whole community of Macau. For the minority to say that the minority is important, it’s not the best way to get recognised.

R: Why did you say that it would be a surprise if Civil Watch was being elected?

Mr Sautedé: Agnes Lam was very active on blogs, but Angus Cheong Weng Hin [an expert in internet usage] was saying that even though the internet was a new way of communications nowadays, the impact was not as important as people would want it to be. Having more impact would be handshakes, going to the streets, organising rallies, which are more important than having Facebook and YouTube videos.

She started late and became much more aggressive only in July made it very very difficult…and of course for someone who was using “clean method” in the campaign I think this was a pretty good result [to get 5,329 votes]. But it would be rather difficult to go beyond 8,000 in order to win a seat.

Also, one of the forces they could tap on is the list headed by Caritas’ Paul Pun Chi Meng. I’m pretty sure the 2,334 votes of Paul Paul are clean. If I could give a piece of advice to Agnes Lam for next time, they should get in touch with Paul Pun who is also supported by a lot of Christians in Macau.

R: Is it unacceptable to have 6,539 invalid votes?

Mr Sautedé: The figure represents 4.4 percent of the cast votes, it’s really huge that shouldn’t be the case. If the invalid votes are deemed valid, the result may change a bit. The next one to get in could be either the second candidate of “Kai Fong”, Angela Leong’s list, or even of Coutinho’s New Hope. We know that in this election the fight was really over the last four seats. So the invalid votes are pretty significant. If there is a discrepancy in the general outlook of the votes just by 10 percent or more 650 votes in favour of any of those three lists, it could make a difference eventually.

There is clearly something wrong that the interpretations of invalid votes are different from one to another, which might also cause the major delay of the vote counting process. The EAC talked about some staff workers in six polling stations might have forgotten to press “enter” in the computer to record the presence of some voters, if it’s true then it doesn’t look very professional.

R: How will you comment on the overall quality of the election this time?

Mr Sautedé: When it comes to the cleanliness of the election, it’s a terrible message to send. I repeat the biggest loser of the election is the EAC. If someone was convicted of having engaged in a large number of vote buying, what could happen? Will they organise a re-election?

The EAC members are intelligent people, some of them are well trained and the president is a judge. So it’s not a lack of competence, but is a lack of either clear cut mandate or power. They are powerless.

Between 2005 and 2009, I don’t see any improvement. I think there are even more sophisticated ways to cheat [which are even harder to detect].

Transparency is also one of the things. For example the EAC refused to give the names of the lists involved in malpractices saying that otherwise it would give them more publicity than anything else, this is not true. It’s the same idea of saying people are not ready for democracy because they’re not educated enough. It’s to say that the public are not intelligent enough to understand the message. The information should be disclosed to everybody. Usually the only way to fight against electoral corruption is to add more meanings into the election. Having three democrats elected this time will bring an added value that people are just doing their job and nothing else.

R: Do you think it was appropriate for the government to announce the double-tier social security system, the reopening of social housing application and the family reunion plan just right before the election? These are all advocated mainly by “Kai Fong”, the Federation of Trade Unions and Chan Meng Kam…

Mr Sautedé: I don’t think that this is proper. The government should have refrained from announcing them in the last minute. But it’s interesting to note that “Kai Fong” and Chan Meng Kam seemingly didn’t benefit from the announcements but either lost a seat or lost 18 percent of votes over the last election.

It’s going to be the next government’s expenditure and so it’s strange to see all of a sudden all these schemes which had been awaited for long by residents came out around the same time.

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