Macau opposition gains in election after deadly typhoon

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Macau’s mostly pro-democracy opposition made slight gains in legislative elections, as critics saw signs of public dissatisfaction with the pro-Beijing government after a deadly typhoon battered the Asian gambling hub a month ago.

Results of Sunday’s vote announced on Monday showed the opposition camp won five seats in the 33-seat legislative assembly, one more than at the last election four years ago, according to local media reports.

Macau’s political landscape has long been dominated by pro-establishment, pro-Beijing and casino industry interests, and critics viewed any improvement by the opposition as an achievement.

Only 14 of the legislative seats were directly elected, a far lower proportion than in neighboring Hong Kong, also a China-ruled former colony, that has pushed much harder and wrested greater democratic freedoms than Macau, which returned from Portuguese to Chinese rule in 1999.

Twelve other seats are indirectly elected in smaller constituencies, while another seven are appointed by Macau’s Beijing-backed leader, Fernando Chui, making chances of opposition ever gaining a majority all but impossible.

Among the winners was 26-year-old pro-democracy activist and outspoken government critic, Sulu Sou, who becomes the youngest ever Macau lawmaker.

Sou was one of the young leaders that helped spearhead one of Macau’s largest anti-government protests three years ago, when around 20,000 people rallied against a bill offering a generous compensation package to outgoing officials.

Macau’s leader, Chui, later withdrew it.

“In the past four years, people in Macau went through different battles, large and small,” Sou wrote on his Facebook page after his victory.

“Today, people in Macau are using their votes to express their determination for change.”

Sou couldn’t be immediately reached by Reuters for comment.

Unlike neighboring Hong Kong, large-scale protests are rare and grassroot dissent is relatively muted in Macau, a former Portuguese colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1999 under a “one country, two systems” arrangement.

The election took place less than a month after Typhoon Hato wrought havoc in Macau, killing ten people.

The government’s failure to warn people of the devastating storm, a lack of preparedness, along with widespread and protracted cuts to power and water supplies drew public anger and exposed Macau’s inadequate infrastructure.

While the opposition’s gain was marginal, critics said the high 57 percent turnout rate and Sou’s win should be a wake-up call for the government.

“It’s an ideal result ... The people came out in greater numbers to support the opposition,” Au Kam-sang, a veteran pro-democracy lawmaker who was re-elected, told Reuters.

“It reflects the incompetence of the Macau government and the aftermath of typhoon Hato,” Au added.

(This story corrects second paragraph to say previous election was four years ago, not five)

Reporting by James Pomfret and Venus Wu; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore