Macau democrats blame voters for losing one seat

Candidates say would-be backers were swayed by sweeteners and casino economic boom

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 2:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 3:43am

Macau's democrats suffered a setback in the legislature election, losing one of their three seats.

The disappointed candidates blamed voters for their "pragmatic and lukewarm" attitudes towards democracy because of government cash handouts and the casino-led economic boom, but said they would reflect on which areas they could improve to win back voters.

On Sunday, 55 per cent of registered voters - 151,881 people - cast their vote for the city's fifth Legislative Assembly. This was 5 per cent less than the last poll four years ago.

The pro-democracy New Macau Association received 23,039 votes - enough to secure only two seats in the legislature. In the 2009 election it received 4,400 more votes, which won the party three seats.

Veteran lawmakers Au Kam-san and António Ng Kuok-cheong have been re-elected, but incumbent lawmaker Paul Chan Wai-chi, who ran with Ng, failed to get back in.

The party ran three lists - instead of two - this year, with radical young candidate Jason Chao Teng-hei hoping to win over young voters. But he received only 3,227 votes.

"It is too early to conclude the failure was caused by our election tactics. We respect the voters' choice," said Chan, who cited the cash handouts and other relief measures put in place by Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on's administration as some reasons for their poor showing.

He said losing a seat would not affect democratic progress, adding that the party would continue its work on civic issues.

Meanwhile, Fujian community leader and casino owner Chan Meng-kam was the biggest vote magnet, securing 26,385 votes - 18.2 per cent of the total. He also broke a record in Macau history, winning three seats from a single candidate list.

The pro-establishment lawmaker-elect said he believed the city should implement universal suffrage "step by step", and that functional constituencies should be preserved.

"People tend to look for stability instead of democracy, that's why they found radical democrat Jason Chao not very acceptable," he said. "The democrats have to work harder on community issues to regain the voters' support."

Others with casino links - Angela Leong On-kei of New Union for Macau's Development and Melinda Chan Mei-yi of the Alliance for Change - also did well in the polls. Leong is married to gambling mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun, while Chan is married to casino tycoon David Chow Kam-fai.

But Leong was disappointed her running mate, Wong Seng-hong, did not get into the legislature. Wong was just 16 votes behind New Hope's Leong Veng-chai, who was the last to win a seat. Angela Leong said she would appeal the result.

University of Macau political scientist Bill Chou Kwok-ping said the democrats' drop in votes was probably a result of the lower voter turnout.

"The pro-establishment camp has its core voter base, but the democrats don't," he said, adding that the economic boom had improved social sentiment.