A surprise is the least that can be said of the findings of a study recently published by a Taiwanese researcher on parliamentary activity during the last legislative session of Macau (2013-2017).
If the reader shares the opinion that the Assembly is monotonous, too aligned and therefore uninteresting, the study by Jinhyeok Jang of National Sun Yat Sen University points in the opposite direction.
“It presents a considerable amount of variance in the decision-making of the legislators, meaning that the Macau legislature is not just a rubber stamp but a place where a series of collective decisions are made with careful consideration of the individual legislators,” states Jang. “Unlike the conventional wisdom that the pro-establishment politicians dominate Macau politics, its social network analysis reveals that two distinct groups shape legislative politics in Macau.”
Through a spatial model of analysis of the roll call voting, the researcher goes so far as to say that “most of the collective decision-makings fit a single government-opposition dimension.”
Other findings we can read in Parliamentary Representation in the Macau Special Administrative Region: A Quantitative Analysis of Roll Call Voting Behaviour in the 5th Legislative Assembly, 2013-17: “A close look at the roll call voting data suggests that a considerable amount of variance exists in this final stage of legislative policymaking process.”
Or: “Legislators were actively engaged in these collective decision-making activities. In their overall roll call voting decisions, extremely high (dis)agreements are rare. That is, the Macau legislature is not just a rubber stamp but a place where a series of collective decisions are made with careful consideration of the individual legislators.”
“In this first quantitative research on legislative politics in Macau, to the best of my knowledge, at least in the literature written in English,” says Jinhyeok Jang, he used the original data of roll call voting in the 5th term Legislative Assembly from 2013 through 2017 “for capturing the pattern of legislative representation in Macau.”
For data collection, he accessed the official website and downloaded all pdf files of roll call voting and manually recorded each politician’s activity for each bill.
Specifically, the Taiwanese researcher used the five types of action; namely, Yea, Nay, Abstention, Present, and Not Available.
As he explains: “Legislators may reveal their preference over the agenda by voting for (coded as Yea) or against (coded as Nay) the agenda. They can also choose not to express their position officially (Abstention) or just keep a seat without any activities, which is recorded as Present. If not applied to any of these categories, his or her record of the bill remains blank (Not Available).
Unsurprisingly, most of the roll call voting results yield the agenda to be passed. Of the 82 bills, 67 were passed (about 82 per cent), while 15 (about 18 per cent) were rejected. Second, “many of the collective decisions were done lopsidedly to be recognised clearly which side won (the leftist and the rightist parts). Third, some of the voting was done competitively. Specifically, ten collective decisions were made by one or two votes on the winning side (8 for passed and 2 for rejected). Last but not least, there is a considerable amount of variation within these passed bills: 21 of 67 resolutions (31.34 per cent) [showed] some legislators voted against the bill. The other 46 cases were passed unanimously.”
Mr. Jang also assumes in his paper that “legislators were actively engaged in roll call voting . . . [once] . . . the median of legislators’ participation rate, limited to Yea or Nay choice, is 90.25 per cent (74 of 82 votes).”
On the other hand, Abstention or Present “accounts for about 3 per cent of the total roll call voting action. In the 5th term, there have been 72 abstentions out of all of the 2,706 decisions (2.7 per cent).”
In the case of Present, a legislator need only be seated to be counted to meet the quorum, the minimum number of members of the legislature required to validate the voting result, without any actions, including Yea, Nay, or even Abstention. Seven cases were reported, which is about 0.3 per cent of all roll call voting behaviour.
Several other interesting findings: the two non-democratic ways of recruiting members of the Legislative Assembly of Macau are designed to be supportive of the executive branch, and the researcher demonstrates that “those legislators actually represent pro-Beijing and pro-establishment policy in the form of roll call voting in the legislature.
“By contrast, legislators elected in a democratic way via universal suffrage face a broad set of voters with various preferences, demands, and ideas of politics that are sometimes counter to the executive branch’s policy direction. These legislators elected in a geographical constituency need to care for their voters, and this electoral connection pushes them to take a position as opposition in their roll call voting behaviour.”
“The overarching argument of this paper,” concludes Jinhyeok Jang, is that “a considerable amount of policymaking and representation exist in the Legislative Assembly of Macau, at least in the 5th term legislature from 2013 through 2017.”
Subsequently, it concludes that “the two groups, not a single dominant camp of pro-Beijing legislators, shape legislative politics in Macau. It further shows a unidimensionality of parliamentary politics in which most of the legislators from the functional constituencies and appointed members are located on the government side, while representatives from direct election are aligned to the opposition side.”
Some featured names
- Speaker Ho Iat Seng only cast his vote on two bills for tie-breaking to be passed.
- The maximum number of Not Available actions is 26 (Leong On Kei), “meaning that he tends to be away from participation in roll call voting.
- Only one legislator (Lei Cheng I) has no record of Not Available, as well as just one Abstention record, “meaning that she is the most active to show her preference on the given roll call voting choice.”
- Lei Cheng I is from a functional constituency but she is placed in the middle of the cluster of directly elected legislators. This positioning “reflects the characteristics of the functional constituency of the labour section that she is selected [from].”
- Lam Heong Sang, Chan Hong, and Mak Soi Kun “are the most connected legislators” in the 5th term Legislative Assembly. By contrast, José Maria Pereira Coutinho, Leong Veng Chai and Chui Sai Cheong “are the top three isolated politicians in this network.”
- Fong Chi Keong, who is an appointed legislator, appears “isolated from all the other appointed members. This is not so much of a surprising result, as he is well known for his critical view toward the executive branch within his pro-Beijing perspective.”