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Macau set to elect Beijing-backed leader

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HONG KONG The Chinese territory of Macau is set to elect as leader the only candidate for which it is allowed to vote: a Beijing-backed former legislator who is expected to cement China's control over the special administrative region and distance it from escalating protests in neighbouring Hong Kong.

The selection of former legislature head Ho Iat Seng - the sole candidate approved to run - is scheduled for Sunday, when he will be chosen by a pro-Beijing committee to lead the world's largest gambling hub for at least the next five years.

The 62-year-old's highly scripted appointment comes as the former Portuguese colony tries to position itself as a beacon of stability and model for the Chinese government's "one country, two systems" formula through which Beijing administers Macau and Hong Kong.

"Many people expressed they do not want to mess up Macau," Mr Ho told local media this week, explaining that he had heard much opposition to the protests in Hong Kong.

Mr Ho, who has deep ties to China and was on the committee of China's prestigious legislative body, said local youth could resist the influence of Hong Kong's protesters and supported measures to boost patriotism in Macau.

Mr Ho campaigned on integrating Macau's economy with the Greater Bay Area and improving livelihoods. He will take over from incumbent Mr Fernando Chui in December as Macau celebrates 20 years under Chinese rule.

Macau-born Mr Ho moved into government in the early 2000s after starting off in the family business under his industrial tycoon father, Mr Ho Tin.

He has no ties to the casino industry, in contrast to previous leaders, and will play a key role in determining what will happen to the six casino operators - Sands China, Wynn Macau, SJM Holdings, Galaxy Entertainment, Melco Resorts and MGM China - when their licences expire in coming years.

Mr Ho has said he wants "healthy" development for the gambling industry as it is the main source of tax revenue for the government. He has also warned that the protests and the China-US trade war could hurt Macau's economy.

As Hong Kong's protests have intensified, Mr Ho has cautioned against rushing through controversial legislation such as national education and a public investment vehicle, and stated that the government needs to be more inclusive.

But Macau pro-democratic activists, mainly in their 20s and 30s, say the city has a broken and undemocratic political system and called on the international community to support Macau's efforts for democratisation.- REUTERS