Scandals emerged and smear campaigns intensified in the build-up to Macau's legislative poll today, catching voters by surprise and making it harder to predict the winners in the 12 directly elected seats. Popular new government policies announced last week, soon after pro-government candidates called for them, are also expected to affect the election. Political commentator Professor Larry So Man-yum, of Macau Polytechnic Institute, said competition would be fierce, with no team winning more than two seats. So said a large-scale smear campaign would harm two teams of democrats, limiting their chances of winning four seats. 'There has been a well-organised smear campaign,' So said. 'Some people are very afraid of democrats winning four seats and are therefore trying to hammer them.' Only 12 of the 29 seats in Macau's legislature are directly elected; seven are appointed by the chief executive and 10 lawmakers represent functional constituencies. Analysts say the strongest contenders include Antonio Ng Kuok-cheong, a democrat whose team won the highest number of votes in 2005, Fujian community leader Chan Meng-kam, Jose Coutinho, an activist for civil servants, Angela Leong On-kei, fourth wife of casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun, and Kwan Tsui-hang, of the pro-government Federation of Trade Unions. Democrats, led by Ng and Au Kam-san, are looking to extend their presence in the legislature by splitting into two teams in pursuit of four seats. Au, who leads the second democratic team, is one of Macau's best-known government watchdogs. But his team is battling accusations spread on the internet and published in pro-government newspapers. It was revealed last week that Ng Seng-fong, No 4 on Au's candidate list, had been found guilty of fraud on July 15. A message posted on the internet on Monday revealed Ng Seng-fong's court case and contained a confidential police file with her personal and family details. Ng Seng-fong's place on Au's candidate list was confirmed on July 22, a week after the court sentenced her to three years and three months in jail. Au said it was strange that the case had been tried without Ng Seng-fong's knowledge and that the court had neither summonsed her to hear the judgment nor put her in jail. The court found that she had swindled a business partner out of about 300,000 patacas. She said the alleged victim was her former boyfriend, and the suit was filed in 2005. Ng Seng-fong pulled out of the election on Wednesday while insisting she was innocent. Another police file, leaked last week, revealed that another running mate of Au had been caught drink-driving in February. Accusations against Au, including that he was a Falun Gong practitioner, that he had a secret political deal with Fernando Chui Sai-on, Macau's chief executive-elect, and that he kept a concubine, spread on Macau's online forums. Pro-government newspapers appeared keen to pick up on these accusations. Au described the accusations as the biggest challenge he has faced since he first ran for a legislature seat in 1992. 'I have never before experienced such an overwhelming smear campaign against me,' he said. So said a few popular government policies announced in the past few days would sway the election in favour of candidates from the Federation of Trade Unions and the General Union of Neighbourhood Associations. A scheme to enhance social welfare for people on low incomes was announced a day after the Federation of Trade Union said it would push for such a scheme. The government also announced that it would begin accepting applications for public housing in December - a day after the General Union of Neighbourhood Associations vowed to push for public housing. Another policy revealed last week looks set to benefit Chan, a wealthy businessman who has support from residents of Fujian origin. It was revealed 'over-aged' children of Macau residents would soon be allowed to apply to settle in Macau. Under the new policy, abode claimants who were under 14 on November 1, 2001, and have at least one parent who is a permanent resident of Macau will be eligible to apply for a one-way permit. Members of the Fujian community, led by Chan, have long been fighting for their children's Macau residency. The team of businessmen Lai Cho-wai and Kuan Vai-lam has found itself embroiled in a vote-buying scandal. Anti-graft officers searched the office of a charity group run by the pair on Friday and took away four people from the office for questioning. Lai and Kuan said they were not involved in vote-buying and had no idea what the search was about. Polling will run from 9am to 9pm, with results about midnight.