Don't 'mess up Macau': gambling hub set to choose Beijing-backed leader


Posted at Aug 21 2019 03:31 PM

Ho Iat Seng, the candidate for Macau chief executive, speaks at a news conference in Macau, China, August 10, 2019. Picture taken August 10, 2019. Zhang Wei, CNS via Reuters

HONG KONG - The Chinese territory of Macau is set to elect as leader the only candidate for which it is allowed to vote: a Beijing-backed former legislator who is expected to cement China's control over the special administrative region and distance it from escalating protests in neighboring Hong Kong.

The selection of former legislature head Ho Iat Seng - the sole candidate approved to run - is scheduled for Sunday, when he will be chosen by a 400-member pro-Beijing committee to lead the world's largest gambling hub for at least the next 5 years.

The 62-year-old's highly scripted appointment comes as the former Portuguese colony tries to position itself as a beacon of stability and model for the Chinese government's "one country, two systems" formula through which Beijing administers Macau and Hong Kong.

"Many people expressed they do not want to mess up Macau," Ho told local media this week, explaining that he had heard much opposition to the protests that have plunged Hong Kong into its deepest political crisis since its handover to Beijing in 1997.

Ho, who has deep ties to China and was on the committee of the mainland's prestigious legislative body, said local youth could resist the influence of Hong Kong's protesters and supported measures to boost patriotism in Macau.

Although anti-government protests have roiled the former British colony of Hong Kong for nearly three months, Macau has seen little dissent to Beijing's rule.

Many in Macau, particularly the middle-aged and elderly, have sought to distance themselves from the movement.

"People in Macau are more satisfied. Everyone is secure with their jobs. We have annual payments. We are comfortable and we are grateful for it," said Ms Leong, a marketing executive who declined to give her first name.

Chinese rule has generally been welcomed in Macau, which has seen economic growth soar and a sustained period of stability - a sharp contrast to the years preceding the handover in 1999, when there were a series of mob wars.

About half of Macau's population of 600,000 immigrated from China in recent decades, which has helped foster a stronger affinity for the mainland than in Hong Kong, where most of the population was born in the territory.

In recent years, millions of dollars have been piled into creating youth associations linked to the Chinese government that encourage study and learning in the mainland.

Macau's behavior has pleased Beijing. In state media this week, netizens applauded the swift shutdown of a planned unlawful protest against what activists described as excessive violence by Hong Kong's police.

Police told Reuters that dozens of officers were deployed on Monday to the historic Senado Square, where the protest was meant to take place, and that 30 people were "investigated".

The ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily said on its online Weibo account "why are Macau people so excellent#? It comes to the importance of education." Other comments praised Macau's police enforcement and local mindset.

"Positive life is meaningful," wrote another user. "Macau doesn't want to respond to Hong Kong. Don't prevent Macau people from making money, you are not welcome to revolt here."