Gambling hub Macau elects Beijing-backed man as leader

Mr Ho Iat Seng (far left), seen here attending a meeting to present his political platform earlier this month, will take over from Mr Fernando Chui as chief executive of Macau in December.
Mr Ho Iat Seng (far left), seen here attending a meeting to present his political platform earlier this month, will take over from Mr Fernando Chui as chief executive of Macau in December.PHOTO: REUTERS

62-year-old expected to cement Chinese govt's control over the territory and distance it from the protests in HK

HONG KONG • The Chinese territory of Macau elected former legislature head Ho Iat Seng as its leader yesterday.

Mr Ho, who has deep ties to China, is expected to cement Beijing's control over the special administrative region and distance it from the protests in neighbouring Hong Kong.

The sole approved candidate secured 392 votes from a 400-member pro-Beijing committee to lead the world's largest gambling hub for at least the next five years, public broadcaster TDM reported.

His 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.

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.

Mr Ho, 62, who was a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the mainland's legislative body, has said local youth could resist the influence of Hong Kong's protesters and that they supported measures to boost patriotism in Macau.

"Many people expressed they do not want to mess up Macau," Mr Ho said on Aug 16, adding that he had heard much opposition to the protests, which have plunged Hong Kong into its deepest political crisis since its handover to Beijing in 1997.

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.

Mr Ho Iat Seng'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.

About half of Macau's population of 600,000 immigrated from China in recent decades. This 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 Beijing that encourage study and learning in the mainland.

Mr Ho, who campaigned on integrating Macau's economy with China's Greater Bay Area and improving livelihoods, will take over from incumbent Fernando Chui in December, as Macau celebrates 20 years under Chinese rule and President Xi Jinping is slated to visit.

Macau-born Mr Ho entered government in the early 2000s after starting off in the family business under his industrial tycoon father. He has no ties to the casino industry, in contrast with previous leaders. He has said he wants "healthy" development for the industry as it is the main source of tax revenue for the government.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2019, with the headline 'Gambling hub Macau elects Beijing-backed man as leader'. Print Edition | Subscribe