Looking at the Macao news these days, a careless reader might conclude that the upcoming Chief Executive election set for August 25 appears to be significantly more competitive than on previous occasions. Enthusiastic comments about the fact that nine courageous citizens had made their intention known that they would be running for the SAR’s top job have been proliferating. But in the Monaco of the East, politics is never left to chance, and any serious commentator will confirm that Ho Iat Seng’s victory is pre-ordained and has been so since at least last year, if not longer. So why the hype? And who benefits from this great delusion?
Fernando Chui’s own elections had shown an absolute predictability in terms of advance notice, but for these the need to pay lip service to some kind of competition was neither pressing nor needed — quite the contrary, actually.
In 2009, the Macao government was still highly discredited by the Ao Man Long corruption scandal: the condemnation of the former secretary for transport and public works of multiple bribe-takings and abuse of power had been pronounced in January 2008 and Mr Ao, quite ironically, had been dubbed “Mr ten percent” at one point as he had been considered a minor possible contender for the top job. A show of unfaltering unity had thus become paramount.
In 2014, at the time of his re-election, Mr Chui’s legitimacy and capacity had been seriously tested by “the people” during the May protests against the so-called perks’ bill and in the unofficial civic referendum organized in August by young democrats almost 90% of the 8,700 participants in the exercise had indicated that they had no “confidence in the sole candidate.” Once again, time was not propitious for challenge, even orchestrated, and a strict united front was called for.
This time around, it is quite the opposite, as if the remarks made in August 2014 by Li Fei, the deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress’s standing committee, had stuck: for him, “only one person [candidate] does not make an election, but too many is not proper either,” hence, in the case of Hong Kong, the necessity to have two to three candidates.
Is there however even a remote possibility that, in the case of Macao and for the first time since 1999, we could have a second candidate, in order to make good of Li Fei’s admonition?
The insistence by news reports that intentions are almost as good as actual candidacies are rather misleading. The sheer number of potential candidates is in itself newsworthy — granted! Yet the idea that this could be interpreted as a challenge — “a form of public protest” — is disingenuous: will at least one other candidate beside Mr Ho make the cut? Or at least, will issues be debated among potential candidates? In both instances, the answer is no.
First because the “campaign” is strictly confined to August 10 to 23, and nothing that ressembles a political program or platform can appear before these dates. Mr Ho is thus the only one being seen visiting all kinds of associations and interests groups, as if that was not campaigning… to get the number of required signatures and later on be elected!
Then, Mr Ho is himself toying with the idea of an effective competition. A few weeks ago, he remarked: “There are some new faces in the Electoral Committee, and they are not my friends. I am confident in gaining 66 votes. I am happy that there are more runners; it is a good thing for the Chief Executive’s work. Macao is a free, democratic, and fair place.”
I made the count and there are actually only 82 “new” members out of 400! In theory, enough to support an alternative candidate, as 66 only are needed. But most of these new members — 49 of them in the very pro-establishment business, labor and social sectors — are however meant to support Mr Ho, and if an alternative candidate is allowed, it will have to be engineered.
So, we either stop being delusional or we start looking for vote instructions given to these “new” people. The former is for me the way to go.