An unprecedented number of candidates are bidding to be Macau’s next leader in an election set to be more competitive than usual. For the first time, four challengers are vying to be chief executive, in what some analysts have called a breakthrough in the democratic development of the former Portuguese enclave, which returned to Chinese rule in 1999. Even so, there is a clear favourite: Ho Iat-seng, a Macau industrialist, is Beijing’s candidate and many see his victory as practically a foregone conclusion. “All people know Ho is the one. So it is still amazing for the other three to come forward to say they want to challenge Beijing’s favourite,” said Professor Bruce Kwong Kam-kwan, a political scientist at the University of Macau. “If their voices prove popular, Ho may still have to incorporate some of their demands into his election platform. That is the beauty of an election.” Ho, 62, formally announced his candidacy on Tuesday. In preparation, he resigned earlier this year from the standing committee of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which he had sat on since 2001. The election will be on August 25, when the chief executive will be elected by a 400-member committee dominated by pro-Beijing loyalists. To get on the final ballot, candidates need at least 66 nominations from the same committee. Ho was elected to the city legislature in 2009, becoming its president in 2013 and serving until Tuesday’s announcement. There is still a long way for the democratic development of Macau to get out of its infancy stage. Macau people care much more about making money and having a stable living than having more democracy. Au Kam-san, Macau pan-democrat legislator His three opponents are all from outside Macau’s so-called small-circle political elite. Leong Kuok-chao is a pro-democracy businessman who ran in legislative polls in 2005 but failed. The other two are newsman-turned-activist Ho Weng-chong, who vowed to root out corruption, and activist Choi Teng-teng, whose platform includes improving welfare and fighting for freedoms. Macau pan-democratic lawmaker Au Kam-san agreed the trio’s participation was a good start, but said: “There is still a long way for the democratic development of Macau to get out of its infancy stage. Macau people care much more about making money and having a stable living than having more democracy.” Macau-based political observer Camoes Tam Chi-keung agreed, saying the city was “much easier to rule than Hong Kong”. Macau’s population is about 670,000, less than a tenth of Hong Kong’s. Its jobless rate stood at 1.7 per cent, compared with Hong Kong’s 2.8 per cent. In 2018, the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Update ranked the casino hub second for per capita GDP, with US$122,489, behind first-placed Qatar’s US$128,702. Hong Kong was 10th, with US$64,533. “So long as Ho can do something to address the housing and transport problems, he can expect plain sailing in the five years ahead,” said Tam, who also said Ho had an edge over his predecessors because he had served on the NPC for a long time and should be familiar with the ways of mainland authorities. Macau FA Cup match finishes 21-18 in World Cup protest Au said he hoped Ho would reform the huge bureaucracy to improve government efficiency. As an example of that inefficiency, he cited the city’s light rail system, which was first announced in 2002 but has still not been finished. According to the local government, Macau has about 32,000 civil servants, which is about 5 per cent of the population. In Hong Kong the share is about 2.5 per cent. At a press conference on Tuesday, Ho said he would aim to promote Macau’s economic diversification and its participation in the Greater Bay Area development, Beijing’s scheme to cluster the city, along with Hong Kong and nine mainland cities, into an innovation powerhouse. He declined to comment on the controversy over Hong Kong’s extradition bill, but said he might consider looking into making extradition arrangements with the neighbouring city, if elected. The two places currently have no extradition deal. But Hong Kong barrister Carter Chim Ting-cheong said such a deal would be outside the city leader’s power. “[Fugitives who flee to Hong Kong] can be extradited to Macau only if there is a law in Hong Kong to allow the Hong Kong government to do so,” Chim said. Proposed changes to extradition laws in Hong Kong – allowing the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no relevant deal – have caused a storm in the city. The Hong Kong government halted the legislation after it sparked massive protests. The jurisdictions would include Macau, Taiwan and mainland China. The Macau government planned similar changes in 2015. But it gave up the following year, saying more in-depth studies were needed because of the big differences between the jurisdictions’ legal systems.