The eventful year of 2017 will forever be remembered by the young activist and lawmaker who defied the odds and was elected on September 17 to the AL by universal and direct suffrage in the most competitive legislative elections ever.
Twenty-three lists were vying for 14 seats (of 33) under harsh and sometimes absurd rules dictated by the Electoral Affairs Commission.
After a divisive internal struggle that augured a different ending, the pro-democratic group managed to regain a majority of the votes running on three separate tickets, and reinstated the three lawmakers they previously had before losing a seat in 2013.
Gaining 9,213 votes, Sulu Sou Ka Ho was among them becoming, at 26, the youngest legislator ever in the history of Macau. Moreover, after a fearless campaign he became central to the New Macau Association comeback, especially captivating the new and the youngest voters.
On the day after the election, a modest Sou told reporters, “I owe this victory to Macau citizens and the strong team of New Macau Association.”
Sulu Sou first entered the Legislative Assembly on October 23 and, standing, addressed the plenary, thus breaking a long tradition in the MSAR’s legislative chamber where members speak seated.
On that day and on others that followed, young Sou, moderate and even solemn in his appearance yet standing resolutely by his ideals, questioned unfair house rules, called for full transparency in the commissions, and reintroduced political reform onto the agenda.
But an impending petty offense would put an abrupt halt to his mandate.
On December 4, the Legislative Assembly took an unprecedented decision and voted overwhelmingly (28-4) to lift Sulu Sou’s lawmaker immunity, paving the way for him to be prosecuted in court for “aggravated disobedience” regarding a protest over a government donation to Jinan University in 2016. If proven guilty, he could be jailed for up to two years. Any jail term of more than 30 days could see him disqualified as a legislator.
The trial is scheduled to begin on January 9 and is deemed to attract worldwide media attention over an arguable decision that puts the whole system at stake.
Sou’s past as an inconvenient voice in conservative Macau caught up with him. Most notably, he was a prominent organizer of the “Withdrawal” demonstrations of May 25 and 27, 2014 against the compensation bill for retired high–ranking officials which brought to the streets tens of thousands of people – the largest rallies in Macau since June 1989.
As much as the authorities deny it, this is a case of political persecution to silence a promising pro-democracy advocate.
Honorable mention | Albano Martins: Animal crusader
Albano Martins continued his crusade against the city’s dog racing facility in 2017, calling on international celebrities to coerce the Macau (Yat Yuen) Canidrome into surrendering hundreds of greyhounds in its possession to local animal rights group Anima (Macau).
Martins has been instrumental for several years in leading the international campaign to cut the Canidrome’s links with the outside world, including the severing of its greyhound supply from countries such as Australia and Ireland.
In 2017, he was able to rally legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot to the cause, as well as Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor, who pressured the Macau government to intervene.
In October, he rebutted allegations from Canidrome executive director Angela Leong that Anima (Macau) had an ulterior motive in wanting to acquire the greyhounds, and warned that her comment that “greyhounds are [meant] to serve humans” would alienate a Macau public increasingly interested in animal welfare.
Martins’ confidence that the facility’s closure was imminent did not waver throughout 2017. The Canidrome’s concession is now widely expected to terminate in 2018, however the terms of its exit and the fate of the hundreds of greyhounds currently housed at the facility are yet to be finalized.
Honorable Mention | José Pereira Coutinho: A resilient candidate
Lawmaker José Pereira Coutinho was one of the highlighted figures of the year. Running once more for a seat at the Legislative Assembly (AL), Pereira Coutinho saw his chances potentially jeopardized when his two sons were involved in a criminal case regarding drug trafficking.
The timing of the case matched with the kick-off of the formalizations and presentation of applications for lists running for the direct elections and was used by other lists to try to diminish the capacities of the lawmaker. The candidate was pushed to consider and to publically state several times that his seat at the AL was in danger.
Nevertheless, the legislator also had the opportunity to announce at a press conference held at the Macau Civil Servants Association (ATFPM) that the outcome of such a case would “not affect his work and duties as lawmaker and president of ATFPM.”
Later on and during the election campaign in a televised debate, Pereira Coutinho was heavily criticized by candidate Song Pek Kei. The way Song addressed the issue was widely acknowledged by the community to be in a “rude manner,” eventually turning-out in Coutinho’s favor.
At the polling stations Coutinho gathered a total of 14,383 votes, being re-elected with ease and scoring better than in 2013.
More recently, he was the sole legislator to argue fiercely against the suspension of Sulu Sou’s mandate.
Honorable Mention | Lionel Leong: The lucky secretary
The Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lionel Leong is one of the figures of note in 2017. The solid performance of the economy and the record-breaking recovery of the gaming industry after some two years of economic correction are factors that alone justify the mention.
In addition, during 2017 the Secretariat led by Leong managed to comply with most of the bills and requirements solicited by international organizations regarding money-laundering and terrorism financing prevention. He had initially prepared for and presented these measures during last year’s policy address for the economy and finance sectors.
Leong had also already announced positive forecasts for the year’s results, claiming that gross gaming revenue is expected to close the year with two-digit growth; a result that the Secretary for Economy and Finance said is stable and positive.
Also noteworthy are October’s results, reaching a new high after the economic correction. Gross gaming revenue reached MOP26.7 billion, very close to the result achieved in the same month in 2011 when the industry generated MOP26.8 billion.
According to the announcement, the growth was achieved by the simultaneous increase in both the mass and VIP segments.
In addition, the secretary is hopeful that the current growth trend will continue throughout 2018, estimating that gaming revenue for 2018 will be even higher than this year.
Honorable Mention | Loreto Mijares Jr: Filipino Hero
The SAR has announced this month that Loreto Mijares Jr will receive the Honorific Title – Prestige award by the government in mid-January – making him the first Filipino non- resident to receive such an award.
The Filipino worker’s heroic act was caught on video by his wife, which surfaced online and was also recognized by international media.
Mijares was dubbed was a “Filipino Hero,” after he saved three local residents during Typhoon Hato, along with the assistance of the neighbourhood.
His courageous act has earned him plaques of appreciation and awards, which include an award from Manila-based recruitment agency, Ikon.
Also, Mijares has been nominated for the Philippines’ “Bagong Bayani Awards,” for his heroic act – a recognition given to Filipino workers outside the Philippines by President Rodrigo Duterte. The results will be announced in January.