Hope and doubt, change and continuity: voices on Macau’s next Chief Executive

Macau will select its next Chief Executive this Sunday, as decided upon by the vote of a 400-member election committee consisting of members from the city’s different sectors.

There is just one candidate, Ho Iat Seng, who has nevertheless decided to reach out to a wide section of local society, making personal visits to different organizations and entities.

Not everyone is pleased with his manifesto, with some pointing out that his governance will be similar to that of the current government and that his political platform points are too vague. While some have low expectations of Ho’s governance, others are hopeful that his manifesto will be pushed forward as promised in his political campaign that ends today.

Back in April, business tycoon Ho announced that he had decided to run for election – an unsurprising announcement given he had been signed interest in the role a year earlier.

Formerly the president of the Legislative Assembly, Ho was an indirectly-elected lawmaker representing the business sector and was also the only local member of the elite Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress from 2001 until earlier this year when he submitted his resignation. The candidate was also a member of Macau’s Executive Council from 2004 to 2009.

One hundred and twenty members will be voting from the industrial, commercial and financial sectors, while 115 voters will represent the cultural, educational, professional and sports sectors, and another 115 will represent the labor, social services and religious sectors.

Twenty-two lawmakers will be chosen to vote, along with 12 local deputies to the NPC and 14 from among local deputies to the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. There will also be two voters from the municipal bodies.

Administrative reform is one of Ho’s top priorities, having stressed that the SAR government has scope to improve its administrative efficiency to lead to improved economic development.

But outside the sphere of the administration, some academics have questioned whether he will tackle the city’s other issues in need of attention, including social justice and political progress.

The Times spoke with residents from different sectors to gain their insights on the upcoming government and whether Ho’s main focus on administrative reform will occur.

Political reform

Some political commentators fear that his administration will be largely similar to the current government led by Chui Sai On, because of his tight relationship with the Central Government. A few expect his approach will be different, citing the promises made in his election platform.

For lawmaker Sulu Sou, Chui has “not done enough” to take into account differing public opinions, adding that he was “basically passive and would [rarely] reply to queries.”

Sou’s expectations of Ho are the same.

Honestly, most of the time, Ho didn’t express his own stance or personal opinion, especially on all sorts of social issues. He rarely engaged in a group; he is more independent,” said Sou.

António Katchi, a political commentator, predicted that Ho will play the same role as that undertaken by the past two Chief Executives, Edmund Ho and Chui, as it is a role ascribed to him by the current political system and designed by the Basic Law.

“I think he will be a puppet in the hands of the Central Government, trying to balance the interests of the Chinese Communist Party’s ruling caste with those of the local oligarchy and foreign capitalists, but that is nothing new,” Katchi told the Times.

For political commentator Eric Sautede, the administrative reform for which Ho has advocated is “quite worrying” in light of the former suspension of Sou, which became a landmark controversial episode in the tenure of Ho as AL president. It was within Ho’s ability to prevent the suspension of the pro-democracy lawmaker last year.

However, the decision was put to a vote by the SAR’s lawmakers.

“This comes with a very heavy burden, as Sulu Sou was [suspended] in a very controversial way. The fact that he is insisting on administrative reform is quite worrying,” said Sautedé.

For the political expert, there is not much difference between Ho’s manifesto and the current government, noting that the candidate seems to be mostly focused on the efficiency of the administration and its reform.

Echoing similar sentiments, Sou said that political reform is very difficult and he may not be able to achieve that just by himself.

“He must communicate with the central government, and he must listen to public opinion in Macau, [including] those which may be rather critical.”

Vague, unclear platform

Ho’s election platform, divided into five sections, has been criticized for being vague, with a few commentators expressing their disappointment given he has been in government for over a decade.

With the slogan “Unity and Efforts, Change and Innovation,” the means and methods by which Ho intends to meet the provisions of his manifesto remain unclear.

According to Sautedé, Ho’s experience as the president of the AL should have allowed him to produce a more concise and detailed election platform.

“He has very vague ideas and has not really thought about them. As he is the sole candidate, you would have expected something a little bit clearer than this,” said Sautedé.

Lawyer and political commentator Sérgio de Almeida Correia agrees. He said that Ho has realized that the SAR is being handed to him in a “very poor condition, although with some substantial financial reserves.”

“I think the candidate has a vague idea of what needs to be done, particularly in the area of administrative reform, housing, transport, environmental policies and pollution control,” said Correia.

However, another political expert, Larry So, expressed his belief that while Ho’s manifesto is not as detailed as it could be, this is understandable since he has yet to be officially elected.

For So, committing at this point would contribute to a perception that he is overstepping beyond his role and into that of the existing government. Thus Ho is being “careful not to overstep” for the time being.

So differentiated Ho’s approach from that of Chui, and acknowledged that the former is doing well in terms of fulfilling his promises to the citizens.

“His approach is a little bit different. He paid attention to economic development but put emphasis on the Greater Bay Area. […] This is one of the tasks he will get to fulfill.”

Fulfilling promises

Regarding promises of the current government, some analysts have expressed their disappointment over Chui’s term, noting that the achievements of his two terms fell short of the public’s expectations. Others said that he tried to do what he could with the current system.

Ho has pledged to improve living conditions through improvements to the transport system, medical welfare system and good urban planning and infrastructure development.

However, the candidate has previously said that his government will continue implementing existing policies and that a change in the administration does not mean a change in policy.

For Correia, this statement is a “bad sign considering the last 10 years.”

“The current government has been unable to do almost anything, except in [matters concerning the] land law and the area of security, where it has been effective not only by strengthening police control and invasions of [residents’] privacy by installing thousands of cameras, but also in the prevention of typhoon crises,” said the political scientist.

He expressed fears that some delayed infrastructure will remain the same over the next five years, citing deteriorating water and air quality and flooding in the inner harbor district every typhoon season.

“It would be good if he could develop the manifesto/program ideas, setting goals and objectives, telling [us] how he wants to deliver what he is promising now,” added Correia.

He also shared his understanding that many hold low expectations of Ho, based on his profile and past leadership at the Legislative Assembly.

Sautedé expressed his hope that the Trade Union Law would be passed in his term, recalling its failure to be passed in previous years.

It’s ironic, said the commentator, because as Ho hails from the business sector, his sentiments on this are not far from his fellow businessmen, Kou Hoi In and Dominic Sio, who opposed the bill. “The irony is that Chui was much more pro-union than Ho,” said Sautedé, yet the bill failed in Chui’s term.

“I’m sure this is not his personal commitment. I’m sure he was told [by the Central Government] and he was under instruction,” the political commentator added. Failed promises are “typical [of] Macau,” he said.

A worrying trend

“The [authoritarian] system has been worsening over the last few years and this trend will be further aggravated if a person like Ho Iat Seng, who unabashedly tramples upon the law and refuses to provide any intelligible explanation for his most glaringly illegal or unfair decisions, becomes the next Chief Executive,” said Katchi.

Political scientist Sonny Lo described Ho’s character as patriotic, like Chui’s, but perhaps more decisively than his predecessor.
As Ho’s platform remains focused on issues of livelihood, Lo noted that his emphasis on the need to expedite the building of public housing illustrates his acknowledgement of the need to make the bureaucracy more efficient and effective in its operation and delivery of government services to citizens. “More effort reforming the bureaucracy may be expected,” predicted Lo.

“What he could and should do is provide more educational subsidies to encourage more Macau people to upgrade their skills and knowledge through an enhanced delivery of professional and adult education, an area that remains relatively weak and underdeveloped in Macau where its competitiveness in human resources must be consolidated,” he added.

Society’s request

As part of his outreach program over the past two weeks, Ho has been visiting different associations of varying power and influence in Macau.

Icy Kam, president of the New Macau Association, which also met with Ho, remarked that the current government had done a “poor job” of responding to the public’s livelihood issues. She expressed her hope that Ho would cater more to residents’ views.

”Honestly, we represent some of the residents’ opinions,” said Kam. “I hope he can be more open and he can keep an open attitude. From the perspective of the association, we want Ho to take initiatives to accept the AL’s supervision, and open advisory councils and defend Macau people’s freedom of demonstration.”

Meanwhile, Erick Cheung, a psychology scholar at the University of Macau, hopes for a review of the region’s anti-drug laws and improvements to local psychological services and human resources, easing the concerns of service users by passing the torch on.

“Even local psychological services have seen occasional inconsistent training and advancement. They failed to meet the needs of the local residents under the upheaval; moreover, they lack direction and preventive policies,” said Cheung.

“I hope Ho will lead the development of local psychological services, so that local citizens can feel rich both physically and emotionally,” he added.

At the moment, Ho has not tackled such matters as he has focused on issues relating to livelihood, cultural cooperation, and the promotion of diversified economic development.

One of Ho’s aims in his government is to protect labor rights and interests and improve labor legislation.

Cloee Chao, president of the New Macau Gaming Staff Rights Association, is expecting Ho’s governance to provide gaming employees with benefits equivalent to those of civil servants.

The non-hiring of non-local workers, a five-day work week and subsidies for workers rostered on graveyard shifts are only a few of the association’s demands.

“He said he will give gaming employees even better benefits than what were asked for. I really hope he can achieve it,” Chao said.


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