One should always be entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and this applies to everyone, weak or powerful, rich or poor, anonymous or famous. Such was my state of mind when I started thinking about the election of Ho Iat Seng as the new Chief Executive and what that means for Macao.
Let’s admit first that it requires a certain level of abstraction to level up expectations and evacuate any preconception one might have.
Mr Ho’s recent track record as the president of the Legislative Assembly does not help: he actively precipitated the suspension of democratic lawmaker Sulu Sou in December 2017 — in Macao, throwing paper planes in an empty garden could amount to “aggravated disobedience” — and he sacked, together with legislators Chan Hong, Chui Sai Cheong and Kou Hoi In, two universally respected and long-standing legal advisers to the Assembly for no apparent reason during the summer of 2018. Double contempt: for democracy and for the safeguarding of the law.
Just for the record, Mr Ho started as a legislator in Macao — actually directly as the Vice-president of the legislature — in 2009, whereas he started as a representative for Macao at the National People’s Congress in 2000, becoming a distinguished member of its Standing Committee as early as 2001. Even if we add the four years of Mr Ho on the Executive Council advising Edmund Ho from 2004 to 2009, that means that he has presumably served Macao’s interests for a longer period of time in Beijing than he has in Macao.
Then there is the election itself. Right from the start, Mr Ho did say that he was welcoming competition and that, indeed, there were many new faces he supposedly did not know on the 400-member strong election committee. Alas, there were actually only 20 per cent new members compared to 2014, and then Mr Ho ran unopposed, was endorsed by 379 and voted in by 392 of these super electors — themselves “chosen” by corporatist organizations and tightly controlled associations.
There are few places around the world that come to mind where a “new” leader is elected unopposed with 98 per cent of the votes… none of them really fits the description of a democracy!
Now, let’s forget about the burden of the past and look into the “political manifesto” of the CE-elect, as the formula goes, entitled in English “Consolidate a Steady Momentum of Success and Maintain Overall Harmony.”
At first sight, its five parts look pretty comprehensive: improving public governance, promoting diversified economic development, improving people’s livelihood, strengthening talent cultivation and building up Macao on the basis of cultural cooperation and diversity. Also, a lot of the vocabulary imported from up north has been dropped: gone are the “sunshine policy” for fighting corruption and “scientific governance” for promoting innovation in terms of policy-making and environment-friendly public policies.
But then, looking into the details, one soon realizes that some important details are clearly missing. If we focus only on the section dedicated to public governance, promises regarding administrative reform are numerous — making the administration more efficient, cleaner, more accountable, more opened, more concerned with safety and more inclusive. Even the principle of separation of powers is re-asserted, especially judicial independence. Yet, democracy is only mentioned once, and presented as a pledge to “promote extensive public participation in social affairs.”
Effective checks and balances as well as the end to the reign of conflicts of interests can put an end to corruption and make the system accountable — mere fine-tuning of processes aiming at greater efficiency are bound to fail. And what is efficiency without fairness if one wants to be inclusive? What does accountability mean without the burden of direct responsibility entrusted by the community of citizens?
Not only is this long shopping-list of claims not convincing at all, but it is completely devoid of perspectives on “how” and “when” — no milestones, no priorities — these are going to bear fruits. As a former French politician once famously remarked: “promises only bind those who listen to them.”