The Secretary for Economy and Finance hinted on Friday that he might run in the upcoming chief executive election, becoming the second possible candidate after Ho Iat Seng, the President of the Legislative Assembly, who said earlier in the week he was actively considering the job.
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of a Chinese Lunar New Year dinner hosted by the Macau Chamber of Commerce, Secretary Leong said that he is listening to the opinions of the community and will “consider them comprehensively.”
His statements echo that of potential rival Ho Iat Seng, who signaled a similar “consideration” of the position almost one year ago before repeating that sentiment last week.
Leong said Friday that he is willing to adopt any position in public service provided that it is within his personal capability and that it allows him to contribute to the development of China and Macau.
Citing the words of the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China’s State Council, Leong specified that there are just four requirements for a person to be eligible for the Chief Executive post: to love the country and love Macau; to be trusted by the central government; to have administrative abilities; and to be supported by the Macau people.
The Secretary added that in this new era of the country’s development, he believes that the Chief Executive needs to be someone who can “lead the civil service” and who can “coordinate all sectors in the society.” Macau’s top official should also have “experience and capability in public administration,” an extensive social network, and the trust of various interests in the city.
“This is not just a personal choice,” answered Leong when asked if he feels qualified for the position. “I think I need to listen to the opinions of the various sectors within the community, and I will engage in a positive attitude […] when considering them.”
Leong and Ho have long been favorites to succeed incumbent Chui Sai On, whose second and final five-year term in office will conclude on December 19.
The two potential candidates are currently on equal footing. Neither has officially confirmed their participation in the election, nor ruled it out.
Lawmaker Pereira Coutinho and social commentator Larry So both said they welcomed a second contender for the role, which would interrupt the pattern of the previous two elections when Chui Sai On ran unopposed. The only time there was more than one candidate in a Chief Executive election was the very first, when Edmund Ho ran against Stanley Au.
“Although I am against a minority of 400 people having the [sole] privilege of electing the chief executive, it is a positive sign to have more than one candidate,” said lawmaker Pereira Coutinho.
But the lawmaker warned that both candidates would face the same major challenge as Chief Executive.
“Anyone who is elected will have a very big problem [regarding] indebtedness to the vested interests of the 400 electors,” he cautioned. “Macau is very small. Everyone is tied to many other people – whether that’s media links, commercial links or casino links. It’s very hard to find truly independent candidates.”
Larry So said he was “glad that we might have more than one candidate this time,” but offered the opinion that Ho was the frontrunner in the race. “Secretary Leong may have a chance although if Ho Iat Seng runs, Leong will face very strong competition,” he said.
Meanwhile, lawyer and political analyst Sérgio Almeida Correia holds the reverse opinion. Leong has been the “main candidate for the job since he started his rise in local politics” in the early 2000s, he said, adding that the surprise is that Ho Iat Seng is considering the role.
“[Ho] previously said he didn’t have the profile because of a lack of experience in politics and public administration. He also said that he was too old,” recalled Correia. “He suddenly changed that position in March last year […] and it is my conviction that someone in Macau put him forward for this.”
For Correia, “Leong is anchored in Macau society much better. For example, in the aftermath of typhoon Hato, there is a picture of Leong cleaning the streets, carrying a tree branch. That is a very powerful image. It says to people that Leong is on their side. He was the first to get on the street, and then the others [high-profile officials] followed.”
And although the Macau public will not have a direct say in who becomes the next Chief Executive, “they are interested in this decision” and their opinion will weigh on the privileged electorate. “[The public’s] quality of life is decreasing and that’s something everyone has an interest in,” said Correia. Daniel Beitler, Julie Zhu
Tam does not rule out candidacy
QUESTIONED YESTERDAY about a possible candidacy to the post of Chief Executive, Alexis Tam would not give a definite answer. “My current hope is to fulfill the duties as the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture and supporting the development of the country, in order to increase the welfare of the Macau population,” Tam said, quoted in a statement issued by his office.