Macau legal chief Ho Chio-meng won't challenge Fernando Chui

Prosecutor general Ho Chio-meng, one of the few seen as a possible rival to chief executive, throws weight behind incumbent ahead of election

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 5:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 8:24am

Macau Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on is all but assured of a second term as the city's leader after the man tipped by some as a possible opponent yesterday ruled himself out of next month's poll.

The former Portuguese enclave's prosecutor general, Ho Chio-meng, yesterday said it was "appropriate" for him to stay out of the election, which will be decided by a committee of 400 leading figures in the city. Ho was tipped as a possible candidate when Chui won his first term in 2009 and has long been considered one of the few people capable of challenging for the job.

Ho's decision comes as the world's richest gaming destination finds itself at one of its most politically sensitive and economically uncertain points since US casino giants moved in after the monopoly held by octogenarian tycoon, Stanley Ho Hung-sung, was broken up in 2001.

Yesterday, chief prosecutor Ho told the Portuguese media in Macau: "The election for the chief executive is an important event this year, but I will not compete. I believe that this is the best option, the most appropriate. Personally, I hope the chief executive is elected."

For weeks, rumours have been swirling in Macau about Chui's health after his admission that he was suffering from gout.

The concerns over 57-year-old Chui emerged as the city faced an unprecedented groundswell of dissatisfaction over his leadership. The unrest culminated in a 20,000-strong demonstration last month over a now-withdrawn proposal which would have seen Chui and a raft of officials benefit from lucrative retirement packages, and serving chief executives granted immunity from criminal prosecution.

They also came amid a squeeze on runaway casino profits, in part as result of President Xi Jinping's crackdown on corruption and money laundering, coupled with a slowdown in casino revenues linked to a surge in soccer World Cup gambling.

Earlier this week announcing the start of his campaign for re-election, Chui said yesterday he would be "happy" to let Beijing know what the city's residents thought about democracy.

The promise drew criticism that he was merely paying lip service to increasingly disaffected and democratically minded young people. Unlike Hong Kong's Basic Law, Macau's mini-constitution does not list universal suffrage as a goal.

If re-elected for a second five-year term, Chui said he would focus instead on housing supply and administrative reforms.

Ahead of the August 31 vote by the election committee, democracy campaigners will hold an unofficial referendum similar to last month's Occupy Central poll in Hong Kong. The August 24-30 exercise is intended to give the city's 560,000 residents a say on Chui's candidacy. Beijing has denounced the poll as illegal.