Comparing Edmund Ho’s two terms with Chui Sai On’s nine years in the city’s top job is inevitable. Even if it is “not very fair,” as Meng U Ieong, a lecturer at the Department of Government and Public Administration, University of Macau, emphasises.
This researcher in Macau politics told Macau Business that “they face quite different socio-economic environments. All I can say is that both Edmund Ho and Chui Sai On intend to legitimise their rule through so-called performance legitimacy, defined as a social contract that exchanges political acquiescence by the provision of economic benefits [from] the government [to] the residents. They both succeeded to some extent. But the initial level of material concession when Chui took over the government is much higher than the era of Edmund Ho.”
Nevertheless, Meng U Ieong understands that “Chui faces more social problems and greater expectations from society. He may have earned more credit if he was willing to address them but he has failed. This is the reason why some residents feel Edmund Ho is more capable than Chui as the latter seems to only know how to ‘buy’ stability by spending money.”
Professor Eilo Yu, a colleague of Meng in the Department of Government and Public Administration, also believes that the disciple remains in the shadow of the master.
“Let me put it this way,” he says, “Edmund Ho sought to revitalise Macau’s economy and stabilise Macau society. I believe, to a great extent, he achieved this. However, he did not pay sufficient attention to societal issues/problems because of the robust economy but merely improved welfare as a painkiller to maintain stability without resolving the root problems.”
Eilo Yu adds that “his successor Fernando Chui was expected to handle these problems. In dealing with social problems, Chui adopted the ‘action through inaction’ strategy of Taoism, hoping society could manage them with less government invention, with the government merely fostering economic growth. As a result, social tension is rising as society seems unable to manage its problems itself.”
That is, the incumbent CE has failed to achieve this objective. Professor Yu explains why. The first question is that of bureaucracy.
“Many social problems,” he says, “cannot be resolved by a single department but require co-ordination within the Administration. The culture and practice of decentralisation hinder the government’s capacity to resolve these problems.”
In addition, he maintains that “the personal issue of Fernando” means he may not be “energised for the transformation of the Administration in order to enhance the capacity for inter-departmental co-operation. Having said that, following various problems and crises, the government did introduce reform in that regard. However, the government [has adopted a] reactive [stance] rather than proactive reform to prevent crises and problems.”
Hong Kong-based political commentator Sonny Lo says that Ho is politically loyal to Beijing and economically pragmatic, socially balancing a semi-welfare approach (Edmund Ho’s turning point was the labour protests against Ao Man Long, following which he introduced annual subsidies to the citizenry) with pro-capitalist orientations. Lo adds Ho is culturally Chinese espousing multi-ethnic elements of harmony and co-existence.
Sonny Lo believes that “Edmund Ho is more decisive, more efficient, more proactive in image, while Chui is less decisive, reliant upon crisis management after events occur but has not learned the process of adaptation (as in dealing with Typhoon Hato’s legacy and improved performance in dealing with the recent typhoon).
“The Ho Administration was plagued by the Ao Man Long scandal while Chui’s Administration has been marked by continuity in policy without much innovation. Both envisioned economic diversification but Chui has done better in terms of concrete measures of diversification, perhaps thanks to the Greater Bay Area scheme.
“Politically, the Chui regime has been characterised by a kind of fear of any threat to national security,” summarises Lo, “broadly defined to include cross-border crime, telecommunications fraud, and political separatism (which does not really exist in Macau).”
The dictatorship of numbers
If we use the numerical comparisons of the Macau Annual Survey (by the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong) as a gauge Edmund Ho clearly emerges ahead.
As the first CE Ho enjoyed approval ratings of 75 per cent, while Chui Sai On has never reached 52 per cent.
A curious fact: Chui’s predecessor enjoyed a high level of satisfaction from the local community in his first term (1999–2005) but completed his second term with the lowest indices of popularity ever.
“The turning point in the decline of legitimacy under his leadership came in his second term, after a series of policy failures, corruption cases and political scandals”, write Wilson Wong and Ying-Ho Kwong in the paper Political Marketing in Macau. Chui, on the other hand, began his first with values that he never repeated.
“Chief Executive Edmund Ho had a long honeymoon period with the people in the first five years due to the optimism created by gaming liberalisation, rising employment rates, and his reform promises. But the lack of progress on reform, the Ao Man Long corruption scandal, public uncertainty about his role in the scandal, the problems created by the gaming industry, high inflation rates, and escalating property prices started to drag his popularity down. By the time his two terms had expired, these problems had not been resolved,” political scientist Newman Lam told Macau Business.
The ‘black beast’ of the incumbent CE occurred in 2014 when the government proposed a bill granting generous ‘golden handshake’ retirement benefits to top officials – a proposal which brought 20,000 protestors on to the streets demanding the government withdraw the bill. Legislators subsequently cancelled the final vote. It still remains Macau’s biggest protest since the handover.