HONG KONG, June 17, 2009 (AFP) - Fernando Chui will almost certainly become the new chief executive of Macau, after his campaign said Wednesday he had received the backing of 95 percent of the gambling haven's election committee.
The former secretary for social and cultural affairs will likely stand unopposed in the July vote by 300 members of the southern Chinese city's election committee, after securing its overwhelming support.
Eva Loh, Chui's deputy campaign manager, told AFP his nomination paper had been signed by 286 out of the 300 members.
The city's election office confirmed that Chui had submitted his nomination on Tuesday, but could not confirm that it had been signed by 286 of the committee.
Any opponent would have to get at least 50 members of the committee to back them, so Chui's position is unassailable if it is reflected in the July 26 vote.
Macau, a city of 550,000 people, is the only place on Chinese soil where casino gambling is allowed.
Since its gaming market was liberalised in 2002, it has overtaken Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined in terms of gaming revenue as gleaming foreign and locally-owned resorts have sprung up.
But the staggering growth has suffered in the past 12 months as Chinese authorities, concerned about problem gambling and corruption, have limited the number of visitors to the former Portuguese colony from the mainland.
As a result, there have been worries that some foreign operators - including US giant Las Vegas Sands - have overstretched their commitments in the city.
Macau, which was returned to Chinese rule in 1999, runs a separate legal system from mainland China.
In a similar electoral system to neighbouring Hong Kong, its chief executive is not chosen by universal suffrage but by a mainly Beijing-friendly election committee.
It has a less raucous political climate than Hong Kong, although it has suffered street protests by those who are angry about the failure to share the proceeds from the casino boom with the poorest.
Chui is a member of one of the city's richest families. His predecessor Edmund Ho has been in power since the handover.