Of course it was meant to be all praise for the Chief Executive-elect, Ho Iat Seng, as he was being anointed by the central authorities this week. After receiving his decree of appointment from the very hands of Premier Li, Mr Ho was hosted by President Xi Jinping to give his trip to Beijing the gravitas a “successful practice of ‘one country, two systems’ with Macao characteristics” commends.
In Macao, people are ‘united’, “one country, two systems” is fully ‘understood’, the Basic Law is ‘upheld’, the love for the country has been ‘passed on’, and the livelihood of the people, social harmony and stability have ‘improved’ for good. This really reads as a reverse image of Hong Kong, that now stands deeply divided, doubtful about the motherland, its intentions and the reality of its “high degree of autonomy,” and where gross inequalities have created an overwhelming sense of social distress, especially among young people.
Of course, one could challenge the rosy picture painted by Mr Xi. Macao stands only second to Qatar as the richest place in the world for GDP per capita, but the median salary is stuck at MOP16,000 per month. And then the government still derives more than 80 per cent of its revenues from gambling: what happened to the promise of economic diversification? When it comes to infrastructure, the quality and diversity are simply appalling for such a “rich” place, and this is true for healthcare, transportation and even education.
Politics is simply oligopolistic: the same three families have been dominating political life ever since they kicked-out the Kuomintang’s influence in the 1960s. Election mechanisms are so biased that they forbid any hint of competition. Business interests ban all notions of “social progress” — they do charity, at best — and traditional pro-establishment associations keep the society in check thanks to the lavish endowment provided by the losses of mainlanders on Blackjacks tables. And not everybody is happy about corruption at the highest echelon — think Prosecutor General Ho Chio Meng — or the sheer incompetence of the administration — think 20,000 Macao people demonstrating in May 2014 and forcing the Chief executive to ‘withdraw’ the so-called Perks’ bill.
Beyond the irony, one should worry slightly when President Xi tells Mr Ho: “Your nomination and election with overwhelming support fully show that you have won broad endorsement in Macao.” Endorsement of who? Even with 98% of the votes in a non-competitive process, that leaves Mr Ho with a meagre 392 staunch supporters. Is it irony? Could there be a threat: we are giving you full support, so you’d better not disappoint us?
And then when Mr Xi adds that in Macao, “‘One country, two systems’ has proven to be a workable solution welcomed by the people,” what does it mean? It is for now being irremediably questioned in Hong Kong and rejected with despise by Taiwan, so it most probably says something about Macao and the way the territory accommodates anything and anyone rather than prove anything about the soundness of this unique dual-sovereignty arrangement.
There is no doubt that some Macao people will always be there to serve, especially when this serves their own interests. Such is the case of Pansy Ho who was chosen, along with Annie Wu from the Maxim group, to attend the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council and take a stand “to offer a fact-based perspective of many Hong Kongers on what is really happening in Hong Kong.” She was there as the Chairlady of the Hong Kong Federation of Women, a NGO with consultative status with the UN; she was there as a “regular person,” and because she herself “feels repressed and lives in fear.” She was not there as a billionaire. She was not there as a Macao casino mogul whose gaming license is up for renewal in 2022. And she was not there as the very unhappy businesswoman whose Turbojet’s results have dwindled by 32 per cent in the latest interim report of Shun Tak.
If anything happens in Macao, it will stay in the family: the Chairlady of the Macao Women General Association is none other than Ho Teng Iat, the sister of the new Chief Executive!