Thousands of protesters took to the streets Sunday to voice their opposition to the government’s controversial “golden handshake” bill on generous compensation packages for the chief executive and other principal officials, with Macau Conscience – one of the organisers – saying that about 20,000 people took part.
Several independent observers estimated the number of protesters at “well over 10,000.”
The Public Security Police (PSP) put the number of protesters at 7,000 – which still would make it the biggest demonstration by far since the establishment of the Macau Special Administrative Region (MSAR).
Protesters, many of them wearing white shirts, started to gather in Praça do Tap Seac at around 2 p.m. and departed about an hour later, holding signs written in Chinese, English and Portuguese with statements including “No Shame at All”, “Abuse of Power”, “The Government Neglects Public Opinion”, “Officials Care for Themselves” and “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves”.
The crowd appeared to include many members of the city’s middle class.
In addition, protesters also carried a banner that read “DROP the Bill of Greeds and Privileges”. They also yelled “Recall!” throughout the protest, urging the government to retract the bill offering generous benefits for officials stepping down.
The bill is also controversial since it grants the chief executive immunity from criminal litigation during his or her tenure, sparking concerns about whether the city’s head of government would be above the law.
Controversially, the bill also states that the compensation for principal officials leaving their posts is to be calculated by taking a percentage – 14 percent for those who are civil servants and 30 percent for non-civil-servants – of their monthly salary and multiplying it by the number of months they have been in their positions.
During their first year after leaving their posts – when they will be barred from taking up jobs in the private sector – the principal officials would also get an extra payment worth 70 percent of their previous monthly salary. Ex-chief executives would receive 70 percent of their salary as long as they are unemployed.
Lawmakers will vote on the bill will in an article-by-article vote tomorrow. So far, only lawmakers Au Kam San, José Pereira Coutinho, Leong Veng Chai and Antonio Ng Kuok Cheong have said they will reject the bill. The legislature has 33 members. The four legislators took part in the demonstration.
Ng said the demonstration showed that the public “has woken up” to social injustice, also saying he hoped this would be a turning point to make locals more aware of social affairs.
He reiterated his plea for the government to retract the bill. “You recall the bill first and then re-propose it later; by then there will have been public discussion and debate. But now it seems to me that the government gets more frightened as public criticism mounts… so they feel there is a need to pass it quickly,” said Ng.
Protesters arrived at the Nam Van Lake Nautical Centre roughly an hour later, where they stayed for a rally. When the first protesters arrived there the last protesters had not yet departed from Praça do Tap Seac.
Macau Conscience member Sulu Sou Ka Hou told reporters after the protest that they will have an assembly on the patch of grass beside the legislature tomorrow, where they will try to set up equipment to broadcast the plenary session to those in attendance. He added he won’t rule out the possibility of escalating the group’s action.
“People give the power to the legislature so it can scrutinise the government. If it fails to do so, people will take direct action, it happens everywhere in the world,” said Sou. “We do this to send a message to the lawmakers that a majority of them do not represent us, especially those who support the bill.”
After the protest march, which lasted about 1 1/2 hours, some of the protesters walked up to a park on Penha Hill to hold a gathering until about 8 p.m. after which they dispersed.
Macau’s principal officials including the chief executive have their official mansions on the hill.(macaunews/macaupost)