MB Jan | Wanted! | News to read in 2018. Or not

Is the election of the Chief Executive by direct universal suffrage wishful thinking? The subject seems to have dropped off the agenda

Some news has disappeared from the alignment of Macau’s media outlets: a possible change in the way the Chief Executive will be elected in 2019. Although deputies linked to the Democratic wing sometimes speak on the subject, even they seem to have realised that nothing will change. This is the only way to explain the absence of public pressure initiatives. And if anything changes for 2019, changes will occur in 2018 . . . 

That is, the next Chief Executive will be elected again by a 400-member Election Committee comprising mostly business representatives, professionals and a few ‘grassroots’ representatives, most of whom are pro-Beijing or labour union representatives, which means that Chui Sai On will finish his term without fulfilling a promise he made in 2014 when re-elected: to develop democratic reform.  

“The Chief Executive is elected by a broadly representative committee that is in accordance with the development and reality of Macau – and has the recognition of the different sectors of society. We must therefore keep [the method] unchanged,” said Chui Sai On one year ago. 

During the first decade of establishment of the MSAR, it was mooted that the Basic Law of Macau, unlike Hong Kong, did not allow for election of the head of government by universal suffrage. But it was the Chinese authorities themselves who undid the idea. 

In March 2012, the Deputy Secretary-General of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Qiao Xiaoyang, said in Macau that according to the Basic Law the Chief Executive can be elected by universal suffrage. 

“This statement by Qiao, representing the Central Government, ended a multi-year dispute over the eventual election of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage,” argued lawmaker Au Kam Sam, one of the most insistent voices on this subject. In addition, it is known that in 2014 the State Council of China published an official report reiterating the promises of universal suffrage for Hong Kong in 2017 – albeit subject to prior selection of candidates – which would be the responsibility of a selection committee. 

If the conditions for this change are met – meeting the will of the people, according to a study quoted several times by pro-democracy MPs in Macau – why has nothing changed? 

The answer can be found in the Political Economy of Macao since 1999The Dilemma of Success, a book published last year by Macau scholars Yufan Hao (Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences), Li Sheng (University of Macau) and Guanjin Pan (Public Administration and Civil Service Bureau).  

“Business elites have undoubtedly manipulated the electoral process in their attempts to dominate the political arena and further their own economic interests,” they wrote. “The dominance of the pro-Beijing and pro-business sectors has significantly reduced the potential for the democratic forces in Macau to become a serious threat to the establishment.” 

Other ideas from this seminal book: “The capitalists have opposed drastic reforms because they regard democratisation as a zero-sum game which would only benefit the working class . . . Political bargaining in Macau is highly asymmetrical, and subsequently results in policy outcomes that are heavily biased toward the beneficiary groups.” 

Even taking into account that “incremental changes to the current electoral process are unlikely to undermine the stability of Macau” or that “the appointment of the Chief Executive by direct election would not undermine political stability, because the dominant social forces that run Macau will always control the outcomes,” Yufan, Li and Guanjin maintain that “the election of the Chief Executive by direct universal suffrage is wishful thinking.” 

Thus, the European Union may well encourage “[Macau] authorities to consider ways to promote greater participation of the population in the process of election of the Head of the Executive, thus helping to enhance the legitimacy of the position and good governance.”  

The answer, however, is always the same: “We urge the EU to cease interference in Macau affairs and to contribute more to China-EU relations,” responded the Foreign Ministry in Beijing. 

“Business elites have undoubtedly manipulated the electoral process in their attempts to dominate the political arena and further their own economic interests” 

More electoral constituencies 

In the book Political Economy of Macao since 1999 – The Dilemma of Success, Yufan Hao, Li Sheng and Guanjin Pan propose a new kind of reform of the local political system. 

“As the population of Macau increases and some districts are experiencing increasing problems in regard to crime and unemployment, there is a need to reconsider introducing more electoral constituencies. One means of reforming the constituencies would be to imitate the Hong Kong SAR model of geographical constituencies in the Legislative Assembly elections,” they say.  

“The advantage of having geographical constituencies is that directly elected politicians have closer links with their constituent supporters and voters. If an elite-mass link were established, the political stability of Macau would probably be enhanced, and the government’s procedural legitimacy would undoubtedly be much stronger than under the Portuguese colonial administration.” 

> Heritage, the unloved | News to read in 2018. Or not