After an unprecedented protest in Macau on Sunday, a controversial bill to give generous retirement packages to the outgoing chief executive and ministers will be put on hold.
In what was described as the biggest march since the handover in the former Portuguese colony, thousands took to the streets to protest against the bill, which was due to be approved today.
But in a dramatic turn, Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on called on Legislative Assembly president Ho Iat-seng yesterday to drop the item. Chui said the government would table an amended bill in the near future.
Chui's move came after three lawmakers formally asked Ho on Sunday night to call on the legislature to push the bill back to the sub-committee level - the equivalent of a bills committee in Hong Kong - for further scrutiny. This came after protest organisers said 20,000 took part in the rally to oppose the bill. Police put the figure at 7,000.
"Macau residents have been holding different views towards the bill and as a lawmaker I have the responsibility to call on the legislature to study it again," said pro-establishment lawmaker Chan Meng-kam, who wrote to Ho along with Cheang Chi-keong and Leonel Alberto Alves.
The bill, slammed as tailor-made for retiring ministers, was tabled by the Macau government without the involvement of lawmakers. The administration's term ends on December 19.
The bill would give a monthly subsidy to Chui equivalent to 70 per cent of his salary until he found a new paid job. He currently earns about 270,000 patacas a month. The chief executive would also be granted immunity from criminal charges during his term of office.
Retiring principal officials would receive a one-off payment. Those with a civil service background would receive 14 per cent of their monthly salary for each month they had served. Non-civil servants would get 30 per cent of their salary.
The bill also proposed an additional monthly payment equivalent to 70 per cent of salary for outgoing officials for one year - the period they are barred from taking jobs in the private sector.
Supporters of the bill say principal officials need to be better rewarded to compete with the private sector for talent. Hong Kong government officials do not receive similar benefits.
The Legislative Assembly was expected to pass the bill today with the support of appointed and indirectly elected lawmakers. However, it will now vote on whether to halt discussion on the bill as suggested by Chui.
But Sulu Sou Ka-hou, a member of the group Macau Conscience which organised Sunday's march, said they would continue to call on people to surround the legislature today.
"Cancelling the agenda item is no different from delaying the passage of the bill," he said. "We need the government to shelve the bill."
Pan-democrat lawmaker Au Kam-san called the rally a milestone for Macau's civil rights movement.