Thousands ‘surround’ Macau legislature to protest retirement package bill

Protesters defy soaring temperatures to gather at legislature and tell chief executive to resign if he won't kill idea of lavish benefits for officials

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 5:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 3:06pm

Angry Macau residents turned up the heat on their leaders yesterday, calling on the city's chief executive to step down if he fails to kill off a controversial bill that would grant lavish retirement packages to top officials.

Organisers estimated 7,000 people gathered outside the city's Legislative Assembly at the peak of the protest, even as lawmakers voted unanimously to drop discussion of the bill, as suggested by Macau Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on on Monday. Police put the figure at 4,900.

Chui backed down after an unprecedented 20,000 people took to the streets of the usually placid former Portuguese colony on Sunday in what was described as the biggest march since the 1999 handover.

Rally organisers called a second protest yesterday to demand that the bill, which would also give the chief executive immunity from criminal prosecution during his tenure, be withdrawn rather than merely shelved. The protest was said to be the biggest ever at the assembly building.

"Chui is the only one who has the right to withdraw the bill. We will stop him from serving another term if he refuses to listen," said Sulu Sou Ka-hou, a member of Macau Conscience, which organised Sunday's march. He added that the group would consider "surrounding" the government offices in the near future.

Chui's five-year term ends in December, and he has hinted at seeking a second term in a poll that must take place after August 31. He had not been expected to face competition in an election that will be decided by a committee of a few hundred members of the city's establishment.

But Chui has been under fire since announcing the bill, which opponents slam as tailor-made for him and fellow top officials.

Protesters yesterday wore white shirts to fend off blazing sunshine on the hottest day of the year so far. Many said they were joining a protest for the first time; some took the day off work or came after school.

"Macau people used to see Hongkongers as troublesome - we do not like protests," said casino worker Ada Pun. "But this time, the Macau government is testing our bottom line … and we finally realised we could make a change if we stood united."

Remo Lee took a day's leave to join his first political rally.

"There are different medical, educational and housing issues … [yet the government] has their arms folded and does nothing. How can they just hand this large amount of taxpayers' money to officials?" Lee said.

Despite the outcry, the legislature, which is dominated by indirectly elected and appointed members, vetoed a non-binding motion put forward by pan-democratic lawmaker Antonio Ng Kuok-cheong, which urged the government to scrap the bill.

Under the shelved bill, a retiring chief executive would receive 70 per cent of his salary until he found a new job and would be granted immunity from prosecution during his time in office. Other senior officials would also get 70 per cent of their salary for the first year after leaving office, during which they are banned from taking private-sector jobs.

There would also be one-off payments on retirement: officials from a civil-service background would get 14 per cent of their monthly salary for each month they served; those from the private sector would get 30 per cent.

Chui has pledged to table an amended bill and said yesterday he would work with lawmakers.