Macau set for record turnout in Legislative Assembly polls

Pro-establishment groups are expected to maintain their majority in city’s legislature

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 September, 2017, 10:42pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 September, 2017, 11:31pm

Macau looked to be heading for the history books on Sunday night as observers predicted voters had turned out in record numbers for the crucial Legislative Assembly elections in the former Portuguese enclave.

An early surge in voting activity saw more than 40,000 ballots cast in the first 2.5 hours after polling stations opened at 42 venues at 9am on Sunday – representing around 13 per cent of an eligible electorate numbering slightly more than 300,000.

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Despite a rash of reports alleging electoral malpractice and corruption in the run-up to the polls, predictions ahead the final results – which are expected to be announced in the early hours of Monday morning after the polls closed at 9pm – suggested a smoothly run election.

The final results will almost certainly see pro-establishment political groups maintain their domination in the 33-seat legislature of which 14 seats are directly elected, 12 indirectly and seven appointed.

The pro-establishment camp’s domination appeared to have been solidified after Macau’s vocal yet small and split pro-democracy camp criticised the first ever use of troops from China’s People’s Liberation Army to help clean up the city in the wake ofTyphoon Hato – a move that was not well received among much of the public.

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Instead, it is the future of the casino industry, and the role of the global gaming leader in Beijing’s Greater Bay Area plans which have been at stake at the polls.

A number of candidates with direct links to the casino industry – representing the interests of either bosses or workers – are standing.

More than 55,000 people are directly employed by casinos, representing 15 per cent of the city’s total working population of 382,300, according to government figures.

The majority of them are eligible voters and when added to those employed in the wider hotel and tourism industry, represent a significant voting block.

The assembly will also be responsible for driving forward Macau’s role in the Greater Bay Area master plan for the integration of the city with Hong Kong and nine cities in Guangdong.

Veteran Macau watcher and political commentator, Sonny Lo Shui-hing, who closely monitored Sunday’s polls, said the deadly Typhoon Hato – which claimed the lives of 10 people last month and brought chaos to the city – had been a key factor in determining the final result.

“Citizens’ perceptions of those candidates who could help them and who worked for them after the typhoon attack is the most significant factor.

“Those candidates who are going to win reflect how the public perceived them in the aftermath of Typhoon Hato,” Lo said.

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He also said candidates with links to the casino industry had also been successful in mobilising political support. “This year they have gone all out to prepare for the discussions over the gaming franchise continuation in 2020 and 2022. I wouldn’t be surprised if they maintain their present position or even gain more seats,” he said.

“The fact that many first-time and young voters seem to have come out to vote shows that actually they may vote for the independent-minded candidates.”

But he pointed out that “given the highly fragmented nature of the democrats, both old and new generation, the likely beneficiaries may be the new and younger candidates who project an image of freshness and necessary change, especially for some voters who are deeply unhappy with the government performance before and after Typhoon Hato”.

After casting his vote, long-time Macau resident and veteran lawyer Carlos Lobo described the election procedures as “very smooth”.

“It seemed to me that while the polling station wasn’t packed with people queuing to vote, there was a steady stream of voters and there seemed to be more people voting than I’d noticed in previous years,” he said.