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Ho Iat-seng was the only candidate for Macau’s chief executive. Photo: Xinhua

Ho Iat-seng will be new city leader of Macau, China’s gambling hub

  • Sole candidate and business veteran Ho Iat-seng confirmed as the new Macau chief executive, rejecting criticisms on deteriorating rights and freedoms
  • The results of an unofficial poll about universal suffrage in the city were expected to be released on Monday

Ho Iat-seng was elected uncontested as Macau’s chief executive on Sunday by a 400-strong committee comprised mostly of pro-Beijing elites.

He received 392 out of 400 votes cast in a choreographed ceremony that lasted about one hour. There were seven blank votes and an invalid one.

His predecessor, Fernando Chui Sai-on – who has been in power for nearly 10 years – had garnered 380 of the 396 votes in his re-election five years ago.

After the results were announced, Ho pledged to “safeguard the prosperity and social stability” of the city.

At a press conference following the voting exercise, the chief executive-designate said that the freedoms and rights in Macau were legally protected, rejecting fresh criticisms.
Macau, one of two Chinese special administrative regions, has so far avoided the domestic turmoil that has embroiled Hong Kong, where anti-government protests erupted in June.

But recent events, which included a rally in support of Hongkongers that was not authorised by the police, appeared to show the limit to freedom of expression in Macau.

Macau pro-democracy website suspends vote on universal suffrage after suspected cyberattacks from mainland China

The organisers eventually cancelled the demonstration in Macau, but on the day it was planned dozens were identified at the location where it was going to be held and some were taken to a police station.

Ho argued that the organisers could have challenged the police decision in court.

“I reiterate that the law guarantees the rights of assembly and demonstration… There are no rights’ restrictions,” he said.

Ho Iat Seng said Macau enjoyed ‘more freedoms and rights’ since its handover to China 20 years ago. Photo: Xinhua

“In fact, after the handover we have more freedoms and rights,” Ho said, striking a comparison with the Portuguese administration.

Macau was under nearly 450 years of colonial rule.

“We have to recognise that under the One Country, Two Systems we have all the freedoms. And the freedom of expression is also a maximum liberty that we have been given to the population. There’s not any restriction,” Ho said.

Macau’s new chief executive: a Beijing loyalist with deep mainland ties

Ho, a businessman, will be sworn in as the next Macau chief executive on December 20 – a symbolic occasion that will also mark the 20 years of the handover of the city from Portugal to China.

President Xi Jinping is expected to attend the ceremony in Macau, China’s gambling hub and one of the world’s wealthiest cities.

Yang Guang, a spokesman for the China’s State Council Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said that Ho was “up to the central government’s standard for the position, as he loves the country and Macau, and is trusted by the central government”.

Meanwhile, the results of an unofficial online vote – launched by pro-democracy group New Macau Association on August 11 – which asked residents whether the city’s chief executive should be elected by universal suffrage, had also been expected to be announced on Sunday.

But on Friday night the group announced that the website was experiencing “abnormalities” and technical problems.

Sulu Sou Ka-hou, the leader of the group, did not comment on the causes of the premature suspension.

Previously, the platform had been hit by “severe cyberattacks”, which were likely coming from hackers in mainland China, said Jason Chao Teng-hei, the former president the group, who was running the website. But he said the system had not been compromised.

As of 8.18pm on Friday, 5,698 people had voted, according to the online platform.

The pro-democracy group has meanwhile issued another statement saying that the “security and integrity” of the data had been ensured.

It also said the results were expected to be released on Monday instead.

Ho Iat-seng (left), will be sworn in as the next Macau chief executive on December 20. Photo: Reuters

The New Macau Association ran a similar unofficial referendum about five years ago in the streets of Macau. The polling concluded back then that 95 per cent of 8,688 residents who cast their vote supported universal suffrage.

But the 2014 initiative was also marked by controversy, ending with the detention of five activists as police shut down polling stations.

In his political manifesto, which was announced on August 10, Ho promised to promote “democracy and the rule of law” in Macau, but no further details were offered.

Macau, a major world gambling hub, is set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its return to China in December. Photo: Bloomberg

“We will integrate and improve the government consulting system, will promote extensive public participation in social affairs and will improve the electoral law system,” it said.

In a press conference earlier this month, Ho noted that universal suffrage for the Legislative Assembly was not included in the Basic Law – the mini-constitution of the former Portuguese colony.

“As for the universal suffrage for the chief executive of Macau, it’s not at all impossible,” he said.

“But I cannot promise you anything here,” Ho added, noting that the issue had to be taken to the central government.

Hong Kong protests inspire Macau’s youth, teach their government to be wary

Ho has pledged to strictly implement the One Country, Two Systems in Macau and boost patriotism among youth.

He previously said that Hong Kong was going through a “deviation” from the formula under which both territories were promised a high level of autonomy for 50 years, referring to a series of anti-government protests that are shaking Macau’s neighbouring city.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she was looking forward to working with Ho.

“In the development of the Greater Bay Area ... Hong Kong and Macau are both core cities, which can complement each other,” she said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Macau’s new chief executive vows to safeguard social stability in city