Democrat ready to build on public's victory in Macau

Teacher and activist Sulu Sou hopes last week's mass protests can kick-start battle for democracy and civil rights

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 5:20am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 5:20am

Seeing a future for democracy in his beloved Macau was once a struggle for Sulu Sou Ka-hou. The teacher and civil rights campaigner often spent his time wondering when, if ever, his fellow citizens would stand up to the unfair policies of the undemocratically elected government.

Last week, as he stood on a chair, microphone in hand, leading a sea of protesters outside the Legislative Assembly, the 22-year-old sensed that times were changing. The event - which attracted a broadly apolitical cross-section of society - was the culmination of a series of protests demanding the government drop a bill offering lavish welfare packages to retiring top officials.

Two days earlier, 20,000, according to the organisers, had taken part in the biggest march in Macau since the June 4 crackdown in 1989. Police put the figure at nearer 7,000. They gathered to voice their discontent over the bill, which would have granted outgoing chief executives a monthly stipend of 70 per cent of their salary until they found new employment, and immunity from criminal charges to serving chief executives.

The high-profile shows of people power forced the administration to back down. Macau Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on withdrew the bill last Thursday, admitting the government should have paid greater attention to public opinion.

The developments changed Sou's world, but they came almost unexpectedly.

"It was rather lonely to be a democrat in Macau before the incident," Sou recalls. "I was still envying Taiwan for its sunflower student movement in March and also Hongkongers' anti-national education protests [in 2012]. I always wished Macau could do something similar but I was not optimistic."

Citizens had long been dissatisfied with the government over their declining quality of life, Sou said, but the ridiculous nature of the bill proved a tipping point that drove them into the streets.

Sou was not a household name until the pro-democracy group he belongs to, Macau Conscience, organised the series of rallies that changed the city's political atmosphere.

"Macau people do not care much about politics. Our last generation holds unnecessary fears and resistance against it and that's why we haven't seen protests of such scale in the past 20 years."

Born in Macau, Sou formed his political philosophy by observing Hong Kong and Taiwan.

"I first became interested in politics when I watched the debate of Hong Kong's Legislative Council in 2008. It was the year when the three pan-democrats [of the League of Social Democrats] entered Legco. I found it very exciting.

"Schools have always told us to respect authority, but the moves of these three lawmakers ['Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung, Raymond Wong Yuk-man and Albert Chan Wai-yip] turned my mindset upside down. I realised that I should fight for what I believe is just and right regardless of the [opponent's] status."

Sou went on to study politics at National Taiwan University, where for the first time he experienced civil rights movements ranging from anti-nuclear power protests to presidential elections.

"Living in Macau is like being a frog at the bottom of a well. You wouldn't know how a civil society runs until you take a step out of the city," he says.

It was not until 2011 that Sou entered Macau's political arena by working as a summer intern at the New Macau Association - the city's most prominent pan-democratic group. It was here that he could put his lessons from school into use in real-life battles.

In the summer of 2012, he joined Macau Conscience with other young pan-democrats including New Macau Association fellow Jason Chao Teng-hei.

Since then he has joined numerous protests, some with just tens of participants, some with hundreds - but never on the scale he experienced last week.

"The first rally I joined was one opposing a fare increase on buses. Only 50 people turned up. The democrats of our last generation have a pessimistic mindset in which they believe there is no chance for them to witness a protest as massive as the one condemning the June 4 crackdown.

"I used to be able to see every protester in one glance. But this last time, I was really stunned when I saw a rally to which there seemed no end."

The "small victory", as Sou describes it, has convinced him to increase his devotion and sustain the movement's momentum to fight for an even higher goal - democracy itself.

It may be too early to see the anti-bill protests as the "awakening" of Macau people, he says, but he is sure they were a turning point. "This is an important step, but it is more important to sustain the momentum."

His next step is to target chief executive Chui, who is expected to run for a second five-year term in August.

"We hope people will realise this is an unfair 'small-circle election' where they have no power to pick their next chief," he said.

Currently teaching civic education at a secondary school, Sou has not received any pressure from his peers as "most of them also went to the rally". And he remains optimistic about the road to democracy.

"Once people have experienced the power of a civil rights movement, there's no way that they can go back."


Sulu Sou Ka-hou

Age 22

Education Graduated in 2013 from National Taiwan University's department of political science

Political career
2011 - Started internship in democratic group New Macau Association
2012 - Joined Macau Conscience
2013 - Ran for Legislative Assembly election with New Macau Association's Au Kam-san
2014 - Initiated unprecedented mass rallies in Macau to oppose a bill offering lavish welfare packages to outgoing officials