A record 62 candidates from 12 political groups have joined the scramble for the eight seats up for grabs in Macau's last direct election to the legislature before it returns to Chinese rule in 1999. Unlike its Hong Kong counterpart, the enclave's 23-strong legislative assembly to be elected on Sunday will straddle the transition in 1999, with its four-year term being extended to 2001. One of the candidates, Ng Kuok-cheong of the New Democratic Macau Association, said the rush was partly due to the approach of 1999. 'Since it is extremely hard to join the long-established core of the traditional force [which is close to China] and there are no united front bodies like the Hong Kong affairs advisers in Macau, the rising entrepreneurs have to take this opportunity to prove to the future sovereignty their political ability,' said Mr Ng, an incumbent. One of the goals of the candidates was to secure appointment to Macau's future preparatory committee, he said. Mr Ng is one of six members of the association hoping to gain a seat on Sunday. The Alliance for Development is a powerful, traditional force, supported by Macau's Federation of Trade Unions, with close links to China. It won two seats in the last direct poll, and is vying for three this time. But one of its previous supporters, the staff association of Stanley Ho's Tourism and Entertainment Company of Macau, has set up its own Clerks and Employees Association to fight for a seat this time. It complained that workers rights were not fully reflected under the federation's representation. Also making their maiden bids for seats are the business-led General Alliance for the Development of Economy and the Alliance for the Development of Economy. Macau Forever, a group of locally-born Portuguese, is also seeking representation. The eight successful candidates will be chosen under an improved proportional representation system in which the 110,000 voters are each entitled to vote for one of the 12 alliances.