The violent Labour Day clashes highlighted a make-or-break moment for the post-handover Macau government as political reforms have become a categorical demand from the public. The fury of 6,000 workers erupted from beneath a rosy economic outlook. Per capita gross domestic product in the gambling capital of Asia has risen about 60 per cent since 2003 and stood at 227,508 patacas last year, overtaking Hong Kong's HK$214,710. The city's gambling turnover outstripped that of Las Vegas last year. But workers on the bottom rung of society complain about a lack of jobs and low pay while mainland labour floods in to drive the casino boom. Official records show the number of imported workers has soared from 25,000 in 2003 to nearly 70,000, but the wage levels are believed to be dragged down by thousands of illegal workers. Since 2003, the median monthly income of unskilled workers has grown only 23 per cent to 3,809 patacas, and the consumer price index has risen 13 per cent. Meanwhile, property prices have doubled since 2003. A remarkable change in the latest protest was that the workers had shifted their prime target from imported labour to government corruption. They mounted the most direct challenge yet to Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah, calling on him to step down. From construction workers to low-ranking civil servants and children's right of abode seekers - people with various demands were all blaming corruption for their plight. The clashes left 21 police officers and dozens of demonstrators injured. A non-protester riding a motorcycle was struck by a bullet when a policeman fired five shots into the air. Political demonstrations of such magnitude have rarely been seen in Macau, where people generally prefer apolitical and non-confrontational approaches. Some analysts likened the rally to Hong Kong's July 1 protest in 2003, in which half a million demonstrators urged Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to step down. 'Democratic awareness has emerged among the workers in this protest,' said Larry So Man-yum, professor in the School of Public Administration at Macau Polytechnic Institute. 'Many of them believe their plight has stemmed from government corruption.' The corruption scandal involving former transport and public works secretary Ao Man-long has fuelled public anger over government non-transparency. A huge over-expenditure on the 2005 East Asian Games also prompted a public outcry - an extra HK$2.1 billion was thrown into the Games, the cost of which had originally been budgeted at HK$2.1 billion. Unionist legislator Kwan Tsui-hang said the government was facing a severe confidence crisis following the exposure of Ao. Ms Kwan said the rampant corruption of the pre-handover administration had died hard thanks to a lack of political reforms. 'After the handover, people tended to believe the political system had improved a lot,' said Ms Kwan, 'But the fact is, the economic glory had blinded us to many deep-seated problems.' She said there had been too many legal and political loopholes allowing public wealth to be stolen. A hot-button issue is the city's opaque land zoning system. Many Labour Day protesters demanded an end to 'land giveaways', expressing concern over developers getting land at prices well below market value. Macau's Land Law requires land zoning to be carried out through public bidding, with exceptions made only with the chief executive's permission. However, since the handover, only one land zoning case out of about 400 has gone through the public bidding process. Under mounting pressure, Mr Ho said last month that bidding would take place for some residential land later this year. 'The criteria for calculating land premiums were developed under Macau's worst economic situation,' said Ms Kwan. 'But now the property prices have more than tripled.' Land premiums are a calculation of the value of land depending on what the government wants built on the site. A new land law ensuring transparency is in the pipeline, according to Lau Si-io, the new secretary for transport and public works, who took office earlier this year. 'Revising the law is the first step [towards transparency],' Mr Lau told the legislature on Thursday, 'Before the new legislation is introduced, we will look at different ways to make it more transparent.' But he would not accede to requests from legislators that the names of developers applying for land use be published. A new Labour Law is also imperative to ensure fairness and transparency in labour importation, legislators say. Pro-democracy legislator Ng Kuok-cheong said a money-power collusion had allowed some companies to import a larger number of workers than others. He also blamed corruption for the government's failure to stop an influx of illegal workers. Some lawmakers have been calling for a new labour law for years, but the government has not yet submitted a bill. Legislator Jose Coutinho said it was also important that the new law include collective bargaining and specific union rights. Critics also argue that an independent anti-graft body, perhaps modelled on Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption, was needed to stop corruption. Some point out the word 'independent' is conspicuously missing in the name of Macau's graft buster, the Commission Against Corruption, which has rarely targeted high-ranking officials. Although the graft buster uncovered the Ao scandal, it is widely believed that it did so only under pressure from Beijing. 'Had it not been for the central government, Ao Man-long would not have fallen,' said unionist Wong Pui-lam, who organised the Labour Day rally. Many protesters believe the Ao scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. 'How can there be just a single official involved in such a huge scandal?' is a commonly asked question. Ao has been the only official arrested so far in Macau's highest-profile corruption case. Some demonstrators demanded Beijing's direct involvement to 'get to the bottom' of the case. Although the call for political reforms has become increasingly popular, critics say Macau is far from ready to seek full democracy, which is bound to incur Beijing's ire when it does happen. Few protesters, in fact, suggested universal suffrage as a solution to their problems. But some analysts said it was necessary to reform Macau's electoral system to include more directly elected legislators. Currently, only 12 of the 29 members of Macau's Legislative Assembly are directly elected. Ten other members are indirectly elected through functional constituencies, while the remaining seven are appointed by the chief executive. Past elections of the legislature were plagued by scandals of ballot buying and bogus social groups set up to gain votes. A Sunday Morning Post investigation last year found many bogus groups, which existed only on paper, had been registered in a bid to sway the 2009 election.