Regulations limiting electoral propaganda for the 2017 Legislative Assembly Elections are not restricting freedom of expression in the MSAR, the Electoral Committee said yesterday.
Starting from yesterday, candidates are prohibited from discussing issues mentioned in their electoral candidacy until the starting day of the official campaign’s 15-day period on September 2.
Yesterday, candidates were informed by the Electoral Committee that by midnight yesterday they would have to remove or eliminate any activity that by any means relays a message that directs the public’s attention to one or more candidates; or suggests, expressly or implicitly, that voters should vote or not vote for a candidate or candidates.
According to the electoral law, electoral propaganda made during the unauthorised period can lead to a fine of between MOP2,000 (US$248) and MOP10,000. The Committee message announced infractions could be considered qualified disobedience.
However, questions have been raised regarding what would be considered electoral propaganda, with Electoral Committee chairman Tong Hio Fon saying photos of the candidates would have to be removed in association offices, and online content published prior to the exclusion period, including articles or interviews, would have to be removed.
Such content or photos would then only be able to be reinstated after the end of the exclusion period on September 2.
“What constitutes propaganda will have to be evaluated case by case. An interview with a candidate won’t be immediately considered propaganda; we’d have to analyse the content (…) We’re not shutting up candidates but if what they’re expressing includes political content from their campaign [then that] is different,” the chairman concluded.
The Committee also announced it has currently received 38 complaints or allegations of alleged irregularities related to the elections.
The main topic of discussion was the definition of what votes would be considered valid or invalid, taking into consideration the Electoral Law.
“For example, voters can’t tick more than one box, or draw and write in the vote bulletin. Next week we will meet with the General Assembly to better define what constitutes a valid vote,” the committee chairman said yesterday.
Promotional videos will also be divulged through social media, radio and television, with a voting booth set up to inform the population of voting procedures, said Mr. Tong.