Macau democrats gain after bruising election campaign

Residents of Macau turned out in record numbers to elect a new legislature with pro-democracy politicians in the China-ruled gambling hub making small gains despite an aggressive smear campaign by rivals.

At a time of flux in Macau, initial results published today showed Macau’s pro-democracy camp winning 3 of 12 directly elected seats in the 29-seat legislative assembly — one more than the previous four-year term.

Analysts and democrats said this increase though marginal, when coupled with a record 60 percent or so voter turnout rate, symbolised a greater public desire for improved governance and direct elections by 2019, the earliest potential window.

“We hope (Beijing) will now pave the road for (full) democracy,” said Antonio Ng, a democratic lawmaker, after breaking out the champagne to celebrate his re-election, with one in five voters backing pro-democracy candidates on the day.

Among the other winners were ailing gambling tycoon Stanley Ho’s fourth wife Angela Leong, with the legislature responsible for green-lighting potential future gaming policies.

While Macau has cleaned up its seedy image with the influx of Las Vegas gaming giants — subject to tighter US regulatory oversight than local operators — the vast sums of money pouring into gaming halls have still left Macau susceptible to official corruption, organised crime syndicates and money laundering.

Seventeen of the 29 seats were directly appointed by Macau’s leader or selected by special interest groups.

Macau’s incoming leader Fernando Chui was returned unopposed in a small-circle selection process during the summer.

Unlike neighbouring Hong Kong which has a lively opposition pro-democracy camp and plans direct elections in 2017, Macau, which reverted from Portuguese to Chinese rule in 1999, has not yet come up with a timetable for universal suffrage.

Ng, who along with veteran lawmaker Au Kam-san has fought a lonely and quixotic battle for full democracy in Macau’s pro-Beijing legislature, said their election had been hit by a multi-pronged smear campaign seemingly orchestrated by powerful insiders through pro-government newspapers, including some well-timed exposes based on leaked confidential police records.

“Despite all the negative news, the people have affirmed my watchdog role,” Au told Reuters by phone from Macau.


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