Thousands of residents staged a sit-in protest organised by Internet group Macau Conscience on the patch of grass outside the Legislative Assembly as lawmakers debated the government’s controversial perks bill Tuesday.
Macau Conscience member Sulu Sou Ka Hou said that nearly 7,000 people attended, while the Public Security Police (PSP) estimated that 4,900 people took part.
Macau Conscience was one of the organisers of Sunday’s huge protest against the “golden handshake” bill offering generous retirement benefits to the chief executive and other principal officials – benefits denied to other public sector workers.
The legislature held a plenary session to discuss and vote on a request it received from Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On yesterday which suggested cancelling an article-by-article vote on the bill slated for Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the mostly young protestors sitting outside the legislature called for the bill to be scrapped. .
During Tuesday’s session a total of 31 out 32 attending lawmakers cast their votes in support of Chui’s suggestion, while Legislative Assembly (AL) President Io Iat Seng did not vote as is customary. Government-appointed lawmaker Ma Chi Seng was absent. Ma’s grandfather, former community leader Ma Man Kei, passed away on Sunday.
From 2:30 p.m. onwards hundreds of protesters started to converge on the patch of grass outside the building.
The plenary session began with lawmaker Antonio Ng Kuok Cheong presenting a motion to persuade Chief Executive (CE) Fernando Chui Sai On to retract the bill. After it was rejected with only four “yes” votes, 20 “no” votes and six abstentions, the protest organisers outside put up a banner showing the result, which also identified the 26 lawmakers who voted against the Ng’s motion or abstained.
The banner was hoisted in front of the protesters, while the organisers announced the names of the 26 lawmakers over a loud hailer to which the huge crowd reacted by yelling “rubbish”.
The bill proposes that the chief executive enjoy immunity from criminal ligation during his or her term.
More people arrived to join the sit-in in the late afternoon and early evening, visibly swelling the number of protesters. The new arrivals included pupils and adults straight from school and work, including a sizeable number of civil servants.
Macau Civil Servants Association (ATFPM) President Jose Pereira Coutinho attended the sit-in. As a directly-elected lawmaker, he also attended the legislature’s plenary session.
Coutinho told the protesters that lawmakers had decided to delay the vote on the bill and that no government officials were present. The protesters reacted by shouting “tortoise,” which in colloquial Cantonese denotes a coward.
The protest organisers provided bottles of water to the protesters and an emergency first-aid booth was set up in case anyone needed medical attention, particularly for heat exhaustion.
During the plenary session, lawmakers Antonio Ng Kuok Cheong, Au Kam San and Jose Pereira Continho repeatedly urged the government to retract the bill, while other lawmakers said the bill was necessary, arguing that if no retirement protection system for principal officials was in place it would be difficult for the government to attract the best for those positions.
Indirectly-elected lawmaker Jose Chui Sai Peng, who is the chief executive’s cousin, said he worried that if such a system was not in place only “crazy people” or “liars” would be attracted to the government’s top posts.
Meanwhile, the office of Secretary for Administration and Justice Florinda Chan Lai Man said in a statement last night that the government would improve the bill and then submit the revised version after seriously analysing public opinion.
The office said in the statement, which was released after the sit-in protest, there was a need to have such a law in order to fill a legal gap.
Meanwhile, Chui expressed his thanks to Ho and other lawmakers for supporting his suggestion, according to a statement released by his office last night.(macaunews/macaupost/ photo by Tat Choi)