Macau is to elect as leader the only candidate for which it is allowed to vote: a Beijing-backed former legislator who is expected to cement China’s control over the special administrative region and distance it from escalating protests in Hong Kong.
The selection of former Macanese Legislative Assembly president Ho Iat Seng (賀一誠) — the sole candidate approved to run — is scheduled for Sunday, when he is to be chosen by a 400-member pro-Beijing committee to lead the world’s largest gambling hub for at least the next five years.
The 62-year-old’s highly scripted appointment comes as the former Portuguese colony tries to position itself as a beacon of stability and model for the Chinese government’s “one country, two systems” formula, through which Beijing administers Macau and Hong Kong.
“Many people expressed they do not want to mess up Macau,” Ho told local media this week, adding that he had heard much opposition to the protests that have plunged Hong Kong into its deepest political crisis in decades.
Ho, who was a member of the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said that local youth could resist the influence of Hong Kong’s protesters and supported measures to boost patriotism in Macau.
Although anti-government protests have roiled Hong Kong for nearly three months, Macau has seen little dissent to Beijing’s rule.
Many in Macau, have sought to distance themselves from the movement.
Chinese rule has generally been welcomed in Macau, which has seen economic growth soar and a sustained period of stability — a sharp contrast to the years preceding its handover in 1999, when there were a series of mob wars.
About half of Macau’s population of 600,000 immigrated from China in the past few decades, which has helped foster a stronger affinity for China than in Hong Kong, where most of the population was born in the territory.
In the past several years, millions of dollars have been piled into creating youth associations linked to Beijing that encourage study and learning in China.
Ho, who campaigned on integrating Macau’s economy with the Greater Bay Area and improving livelihoods, would take over from Macanese Chief Executive Fernando Chui (崔世安) in December as Macau celebrates 20 years under Chinese rule and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is scheduled to visit.
Macau-born Ho began in government in the early 2000s after starting off in the family business under his industrial tycoon father, Ho Tin (賀田).
He has no ties to the casino industry, in contrast to previous leaders, and would play a key role in determining what is to happen to the territory’s six casino operators when their licenses expire in the coming years.
Ho has said that he wants “healthy” development for the gambling industry, as it is the main source of tax revenue for the government.
He has also warned that the protests and a US-China trade war could hurt Macau’s economy.
As Hong Kong’s protests have intensified, Ho has cautioned against rushing through controversial legislation, such as national education and a public investment vehicle, and said that the government needs to be more inclusive.
However, pro-democracy activists have said that the territory has a broken and undemocratic political system and called on the international community to support Macau’s efforts for democratization.
An open letter from a group of anonymous locals yesterday demanded universal suffrage and said that Beijing had been imposing stronger control with increasingly authoritarian rule.
“The time to fight for our universal rights is now, before Macau becomes just another Chinese city,” the letter said. “The eyes of the world are on Hong Kong right now, but please also take a look at its next-door neighbor.”
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