Young democracy activist among Macau election winners

Macau voters have elected a young pro-democracy activist to the Chinese casino capital’s legislature, as opposition lawmakers expanded their presence at the expense of candidates linked to the gambling industry.

The results released early Monday are a surprising sign of faith in young people with progressive ideas among Macau’s notoriously apathetic electorate.

Official results showed that 26-year-old Sulu Sou won a seat in voting Sunday for the city’s semi-democratic legislature.

Sou’s party, the New Macau Association, favors full democracy for the 33-seat legislature, where only 14 seats are directly elected while the rest are filled by trade and special interest groups or appointed by the city’s top leader. The party also aims to reinvigorate interest in politics among the former Portuguese colony’s younger generation.

He was one of five victorious candidates seen as representing the opposition camp, including three incumbents plus another newcomer, Agnes Lam, a university professor. Sou could not be reached for comment.

Sou has done well in “projecting an image of freshness and youthfulness in Macau’s political landscape,” said Sonny Lo, a politics professor at HKU Space. Over the past five years, Sou “has been working very hard to raise all sorts of issues which were traditionally regarded as sensitive in Macau,” such as political reform. In 2014, he also helped lead the city’s biggest protest since its 1999 handover to China, which saw 20,000 people take to the streets to rally against a government plan to give civil servants lavish retirement benefits.

Macau’s economy has boomed over the past decade as supercharged growth in the casino industry transformed the enclave from a seedy and neglected backwater into a glitzy gambling powerhouse.

But Lo, who calculated that gambling industry-related candidates lost two seats in direct voting, said the results indicate “many younger voters believe that the legislative assembly should not be dominated by the casino-related forces.”

Results showed 57.2 percent of registered voters cast ballots in Macau, a semiautonomous Chinese region near Hong Kong.