07/27/2009, 00.00
MACAU – CHINA
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Unopposed candidate elected as Macau’s new chief executive

Voting for top post is restricted to a 300-member election committee hand-picked by Chinese authorities. A few demonstrators call for democratic reform, but there are no hopes before 2019. Corruption and social needs are the city’s top problems.
Macau (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The unopposed election of Fernando Chui Sai-on as Macau's chief executive left most residents of this former Portuguese colony indifferent. Many wonder however how he will deal with the city’s main problems, like widespread corruption and residents’ social needs.

The Macau Daily News, the biggest local newspaper, declared Dr Chui's victory on its front page before the vote began yesterday morning, with the headline—“Breaking News: Chui Sai-on is New Chief Executive"—raising only a few eyebrows.

The vote count was televised and confirmed the candidate’s landslide victory. Only the occasional mention of an unmarked ballot paper stirred a small ripple of interest.

Chui received 282 votes from the 300-member Election Committee, compared with the 286 nominations he garnered last month from the small circle of electors.  One of 297 members who showed up to vote at the Macau Dome stadium withheld his ballot in protest against a lack of democracy; the other 14 members cast blank ballots.

In the chief executive poll in 2004, Edmund Ho Hau-wah, the sole candidate, won 296 votes from the 300 Election Committee members.

Under Macau election law a 300-member election committee picks the chief executive. The committee itself is selected by Chinese authorities on the basis of a number of criteria rather than popularly elected.

For most Macau residents there is only indifference towards a process most find unjust because it allows 300 people to decide who governs the city of 500,000 people.

But Chief Executive-elect Chui defended his victory as legitimate. He tried to reassure the 14 voters who cast empty ballots that he intended to gain their confidence and that of the population.

Shortly after the vote, a few scores of people led by pro-democracy legislators Antonio Ng Kuok-cheong and Au Kam-san rallied at the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, calling for universal suffrage for Macau in 2019.

“To stamp out corruption, we must fight for democracy,” Mr Ng said

Indeed city residents are still reeling after Ao Man-long, a former secretary for transport and public works, was sentenced to 28 and half years in April on 81 counts of bribe taking and other crimes involving hundreds of millions of patacas (hundreds of thousands of dollars)

For many analysts the Ao graft scandal exposed major flaws in the city’s system of government.

Residents want Chui to ensure that the administration will be more transparent and under better supervision.  But few expect any major structural change.

On democratic reform Chui’s election platform had only general promises without deadlines.

In the meantime he will be called to deal with important social and economic problems, especially in health care, housing and real estate, issues only superficially addressed in his campaign platform.

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