The pro-democracy camp in Macau successfully kept its four seats in the Legislative Assembly election on Sunday. However, pro-democracy camp legislators will still be a minority in the 33-member chamber, with 12 others selected by indirect elections through professional sector association. Seven others will be appointed by the city’s chief executive in 15 days.

The elections saw a high turnout with the youngest ever lawmaker at 26, Sulu Sou of the pro-democracy New Macau Association, securing 9,212 vote – enough to be elected to one of the last seats of the 14 chosen by the public.

Sulu Sou Macau
Sulu Sou (middle) with his supporters after the election. Photo: Facebook/Sulu Sou.

174,000 people, or 57.4 per cent of the population, voted on Sunday in the former Portuguese colony. However, since election polling is not allowed during the 15-day run-up to the election, it was difficult to measure the effect of August’s Typhoon Hato disaster on voting intentions.

‘Not radical’

“It was the first time that I was afraid to see you all,” Sou told reporters after being elected. “My feelings are like walking on thin ice. As a 26-year-old Macau person, I bear the heavy responsibility of many of Macau’s young people, many friends, families of our New Macau Association team.”

“The Sulu Sou of today is not perfect. I hope to grow and improve with our society in the next four years.”

Global Times, the Chinese state mouthpiece, had labelled Sou as a “Macau independence advocate,” but Sou has strongly denied the claim.

Sou said he will not be the “radical faction” of the Assembly: “But we can make our voice louder.”

Ng Kuok Cheong
Ng Kuok Cheong.

Cooperation pledged

Incumbent pro-democracy lawmaker Paul Chan Wai Chi ran in the second place slot in Sou’s list in order to attract votes for him, though Chan himself failed to be re-elected. According to Macau’s system, voters select lists of candidates, with those higher up on the list more likely to take a seat.

Veteran pro-democracy lawmakers Au Kam San and Ng Kuok Cheong were both re-elected. The pair were key members of the Association, though Au left last year claiming that it no longer resembled the organisation he co-founded. Au and Ng both ran with separate teams.

Responding to questions over the split, Sou said: “It is not a zero-sum game, we can win together. “We will be open to [cooperation with other] democrats.”

José Pereira Coutinho, another pro-democracy lawmaker with a civil servant background, was also re-elected. Incumbent lawmaker Leong Veng Chai, who ran in the second place slot on Coutinho’s list, failed to regain a seat.

De facto Chinese control before handover

Unlike the neighbouring Hong Kong, Macau has been said to be under de facto Chinese control since late 1966, when the Macau government had to apologise to China after the 12-3 incident in December that year. The 1966 riots, inspired by China’s cultural revolution, resulted in martial law being declared with eight people killed by police and 212 injured.

YouTube video

Pro-Beijing associations have been very influential since then, with Edmund Ho, Macau’s first chief executive after the 1999 handover, being from a Chinese business sector which effectively governs Macau.

In recent years, another source of votes came from the casino sector, which has over 60,000 employees.

macau casino
Casinos in Macau. File Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Aliança de Povo de Instituição de Macau, one of the major pro-Beijing groups, sought to gain an extra seat in addition to its current three, but only won two in the end. The failure to win more seats may be related to the retirement of the Alliance’s founding chair Chan Meng Kam, who won the highest number of votes in the 2013 election.

Kuan Vai Lam, who ran in the second place in the list of casino tycoon Angela Leong On Kei, also failed to win a seat. Leong received 2,600 fewer votes compared to the last election.

However, traditional pro-Beijing groups saw gains in Sunday’s poll. Ho Ion Sang of the União Promotora Para O Progresso attracted 6,000 more votes compared to the last election, receiving 21,827 votes. Lei Cheng I of the União Para O Desenvolvimento received 16,694 votes, 4,700 more than the last election.

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Posted by 愛瞞日報 Macau Concealers on Sunday, 17 September 2017

Suspected corruption

There have been reports of candidates allegedly handing out breakfasts to voters to urge them to vote for a certain candidate, and candidates allegedly arranging tour buses to send voters to polling stations and giving them a meal.

But Macau’s anti-graft chief Cheong Weng Chon said the free breakfast was not strong enough evidence to amount to an offence, since a pack of milk and a piece of bread were not valuable enough to influence voters.

“There are two factors in corruption relating to elections in the law. First is to provide interests to voters, the other is to affect their voting choices through these interests,” he said. “After our analysis, this is very difficult to constitute corruption.”

Cheong also said the anti-graft agency made 600 inspections on election day and did not find any large-scale, organised catering activities for voters.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.