n elite pro-Beijing panel on Sunday chose a new leader for the Chinese casino gambling hub Macau. Ho Iat Seng was picked to be the next chief executive of the former Portuguese colony in a selection process with no other candidates.
A pro-establishment businessman and politician, Iat Seng will become the city’s third leader since China took control of Macau in 1999 after more than four centuries of Portuguese rule. He will replace the city’s current leader, Chui Sai-on, whose term expires in December.
Macau and nearby Hong Kong are former European colonies that were handed back to Beijing, becoming Chinese special administrative regions that retain considerable control over their own affairs under a formula known as “one country, two systems.”
Residents of the two cities can elect some politicians, but the top leader is handpicked by members of an elite committee who fall in line with the wishes of China’s communist leaders. While Hong Kong has been gripped by two months of turbulent anti-government protests demanding full democracy, Ho’s anointment went ahead with little controversy, highlighting Macau’s much weaker opposition movement. Officials said the 62-year-old Ho garnered 392 votes from Macau’s 400-member “election committee,” according to the Associated Press.
Macau, an hour by high-speed ferry from Hong Kong, is the world’s biggest casino gambling market, raking in revenues dwarfing the Las Vegas Strip and fueled by high-rolling mainland Chinese gamblers wagering at glitzy resorts run by companies including Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts.
Currently the head of the legislature in Macau, Iat Seng officially declared his candidacy in June in the race to run the Chinese-controlled territory for the next five years. The political leader will work with mainland authorities and be instrumental in the award of new casino licenses, a process closely watched by industry officials and investors.
Iat Seng was Beijing’s favored candidate, industry experts say, and has won the public backing of the enclave’s political elite, Reuters reported.
“I will move to optimize people’s livelihoods and diversified development, as well as deeply listening to society,” Iat Seng said in June. Macau’s casino licenses for operators Sands China, Wynn Macau, SJM Holdings, MGM China, Galaxy Entertainment and Melco Resorts expire in 2022.
With no direct ties to the casino industry, Iat Seng said he wanted to promote economic diversification and participation in national plans for the Greater Bay Area. He is Macau’s only member of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament.