We are of the opinion that this blunt attack was motivated by dirty backroom political strategies in the part of some individuals that may be politically connected to some parties. We also view this attack as an attempt to manipulate the facts, possibly in an endeavour to withhold information from potential voters so that they could not make informed decisions.
A right that each and every voter has is access to information about critical issues that may affect them, their families or their environment.
The events of the past week left us questioning why the feeble attempt to stop us from fulfilling our duty as a civic organisation, whose mandate is to keep the people informed. Why, what and who was behind such verbal aggression? These are questions that we still do not have answers to.
Candidates where given multiple opportunities to state their position on the oil exploration issue over a prolonged period of time, an issue that has been addressed many times over the years. Voters are given ONE unique opportunity to choose their representatives. And we are the ones that are at fault?
It is generally accepted that political candidates have both a moral as well as a political responsability to reply to closed type questions. In fact to any questions - so they can address concerns that voters may have.
But we welcome this opportunity to put the record straight.
As you all are aware, since 2016, we have often vocalised our intent to run a "Red / Green Card" campaign during the run-up to the municipal elections of 2017.
We clearly stated this intent when we submitted our petition in Lisbon, during various workshops, and in press releases and public communiqués.
We have always stated in the run-up to the campaign, that during the “Red / Green Card” campaign, that this campaign was too important in the fight against oil and gas exploration in the Algarve, and that we wanted a YES in favour or a NO position from all candidates to key posts in our affected council areas. We went further in that we warned that we would consider no replies, as being a de-facto ”supporter of the oil and gas exploration". It was not something that we just released a few days ago. It has been in the public domain for months and is something that you have all been aware of.
Behind this campaign was the intent to test the consistency and political backbone of all that had publicly assumed an anti or pro oil exploration position in the past, as after all, it is a well known fact that political figures change previous standings and endorsements far to often. We felt it was important for the public to be truly informed of their positions in this key issue.
In fact we hoped that mayoral candidates would put the oil and gas exploration issue in their local agendas and that all would sign the undertaking.
The National Campaign
When the idea was discussed about taking the original concept nationally, we though it was a great idea, as the risks do not only affect the Algarve, but affects in fact most of the Portuguese coastal areas. As a result sometime in March 2017, ASMAA become one of the first organisations involved in the national campaign “Autarquias Livres de Petróleo”. Over time the small group grew to 18 organisations and community groups.
On 22 June this year, the campaign was officially launched in Lisbon and although we where not present at the launch we where kept informed. During this launch the first three candidates had no problems in signing publicly the written undertaking.
A pro-forma letter that would be sent to all candidates together with a YES/NO commitment card was agreed on by all organisations, it was not a decision that ASMAA took on its own.
Copy of the letter & card sent to all the candidates that contact details where obtained.
"Título: Autarquias Livres de Petróleo e Gás - Eleições Autárquicas 2017
Caro/a _________________, cabeça de lista da candidatura do ________________ à Câmara Municipal de ______________________________ ____
Vimos por este meio contactá-lo/a em nome da campanha Autarquias Livres de Petróleo e Gás.
Esta campanha contactará todas as candidaturas de 58 municípios do litoral e interior directamente afectados pelas concessões para prospecção, sondagem, desenvolvimento e produção de petróleo e gás, em mar e em terra, pedindo uma tomada de posição que consiste no preenchimento do documento em anexo por parte do/a candidato/a. Caso não lhe seja possível preencher e reenviar o documento em anexo, pedimos-lhes que nos possa preencher o compromisso com os dados do/a candidato/a e município por email simples, de um email oficial da candidatura ou do partido / movimento correspondente.
Esta tomada de posição será registada no site da campanha, que pode ser consultado aqui.
Existirão três momentos de contacto com todas as candidaturas a cada um dos municípios, antes do período oficial de início da campanha eleitoral.
No caso de, findos os três contactos com as campanhas, em Setembro de 2017, não ter havido uma resposta por parte da candidatura, assumiremos na divulgação do mapa final que a candidatura é favorável à exploração de petróleo e gás. O mapa final da campanha Autarquias Livres de Petróleo e Gás será divulgado publicamente no dia 16 de Setembro de 2017.
Desejamos-lhe muito boa sorte para o processo eleitoral que se inicia e agradecemos-lhe a sua participação.
A campanha Autarquias Livres de Petróleo e Gás
Access to Candidates Contact Details
During the course of the campaign, the difficulty we all faced in finding contact details for all candidates was publicly highlighted. At that stage it was decided to add a third category in yellow. The Yellow category depicted these candidates that we failed to get contact information for and as a result could not contact.
Risk of Political Interference
Soon it become clear to our management team at ASMAA that there was a risk that some of the organisations involved in this campaign could be subject to some sort of political pressure. We at ASMAA maintained our commitment to the original campaign using the official reports that where being updated in autarquias livres de petróleo website as the only source of data.
At no time was ASMAA canvassing for any political party, in fact, as we were supposed to do, we just reported on who had signed against, and who had simply ignored the requests or signed as being pro. This is clearly demonstrated by the diversity of pro as well as against the oil exploration across the 18 councils that we focused on.
We find it disturbing that only in one council area our impartiality is being questioned. Not only was our impartiality questioned, we were also insulted by some followers on the FALA page.
The bottom line is that all candidates that were contacted were offered the same information across all party lines and citizen groups. The fact that some candidates after acknowledging that information had been received, opted nonetheless for a non-reply, denotes in our opinion a big lack of respect for their own constituents and potential voters.
In fact information about the campaign was well distributed through various channels, including social media and the press. The website autarquiaslivredepetroleo.pt was available to any candidate that wanted to check his status and it was available at all times. It must be noted that in the last few days until the last minute of the 29 September various candidates updated their details.
Regarding the allegation that ASMAA favoured one party over another is a blatant lie, as it is clearly demonstrated across the entire process. (photo below of all councils in Algarve including Odemira and Sines)
The Electoral Law
Regarding the allegation that ASMAA was in contempt of the electoral law, I suggest that you inform yourself properly as ASMAA was not representing any candidate, has never done so and neither do we intend to do in future.
In fact as a civic organisation we where totally in our right to disclose information based on the information that had been collated by other third parties and to display such information where we deemed appropriate. The fact that we followed the original format of “for” or “against” was totally within our rights to do so.
Maybe instead of attacking ASMAA, you should all ask yourselves why did some candidates opt for not signing. I believe that should be the question on everyone’s mind. The same way, as to why so many candidates failed to place the oil exploration on their agendas? That is another question deserving answers.
In your communiqué you argue that we can’t use a lack of reply as being a non-reply. We disagree with you, the fact that a candidate decided to not reply, is in itself a reply. In addition we are of the opinion that such an attitude denotes a lack of political backbone and a total disrespect towards the local constituents and local voters. Let's not forget that all candidates where fully aware that such an action would result in the “in favour of oil drilling” and would be reported as such.
We understand and accept that some candidates may appear to lack the political backbone to stand firm in their convictions and would prefer to opt for an easy way-out, but we also strongly object to ASMAA being targeted for doing our civic duty.
Regarding your allegation that there are serious errors in the reporting about Odemira's candidates, and you refer to the candidate “Jose Alberto Guerreiro” and the fact that he was instrumental in submitting an injunction on behalf of Odemira council, and as a result is accepted as being anti-oil, we question why didn’t he sign the undertaking? What stopped him from publicly committing to such in a public document?
I found it interesting that on this group (FALA) this is the first time that the progress around the injunction is mentioned by the founders of the group. I would have assumed that it was of great interest to all that this information was shared widely and on time.
We ourselves, learnt for the first time through Pedro Gonçalves on 30 September in a comment in a post on FALA's Facebook page, that the Court had rejected the urgent application for an injunction on the 8th of August and that the matter has been referred to the High Court. Why did you have to delay the publication of this news until your communiqué today?
Furthermore, ASMAA sent on 6 June 2017, and on 15 July 2017 emails requesting feedback about the progress of Odemira injunction against the drilling by Galp/ENI. Emails where addressed to the normal municipality email with copy to the personal email of Mr. Guerreiro. To date nobody, but nobody had the decency to reply. Coming from someone who is allegedly anti-oil and is driving a legal process, we did find the lack of an official response a bit strange.
About Voter Education
It is quite clear that there is great confusion between what it means dealing with a candidate to a post and his previous political status. If I understand the concept of local elections correctly in Portugal, anyone (that qualifies) and has the necessary support can be a candidate to a post.
More questions than answers
The questions that should be on everyone’s minds are “did the issue of oil exploration made it into candidate’s agendas during the election campaigning? Did they share their views, concerns and actions that they are prepared to take with the electorate? And if they did, who did so. Are any of these that did so, candidates that signed the undertaking or are they in the pro-oil bracket?”
What we take out of this campaign is the following:
- That it appears that there may be groups of civic organisations that have their own political agendas.
- That it appears that political interference in civic society is rife, and as a result there is the risk that it may reduce the effectiveness and unbiased status of civic organisations.
- That in our opinion it appears that there is a risk of lack of transparency in the electoral process.
- That in our opinion there is a distinct need for an effective voter education program.
- That we all need to be vigilant, to ensure a vibrant, transparent and trustworthy civic society.
The final result is: Voter abstention is growing. The lack of trust in the political landscape is rife, and who stands to loose at the end of the day? It is not a candidate and it is not a political party. It is mankind. It is society. It is the environment.
It’s all of us …