When the crises left Edmund Ho fumbling

The end of Edmund Ho’s term proved to be his Achilles heel. The beginning of Chui Sai On’s term enabled him to have the best indices of popularity. Effects of the crisis . . .

The Macau Annual Survey (by the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong) clarifies all doubts: Edmund Ho’s 10-year rule was a stroll in the park compared to the results achieved by his successor. 

In the wake of the liberalisation of gambling Ho enjoyed approval percentages of 75 per cent, while Chui Sai On has never reached 52 per cent. 

Curiously, the current Chief Executive’s 51.6 per cent was posted in December 2009, yet the crisis of the previous year remained in the memory of many – and as one of the texts in this special report shows was still felt, at least statistically. 

If the way Macau emerged from the crisis benefited Chui Sai On, for Edmund Ho it spelt disaster. 

His tour was suddenly cut short in 2007, when the Macau Annual Survey recorded a nebula record of 34.1 per cent approval – in light of these figures, the measures announced a few months later, such as the Welfare Partaking Scheme, are better understood.  

On May 1, 2007 a large-scale protest resulted in confrontations between police and protestors, ending with 21 police officers injured. “Economic growth, however desirable, does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with social stability and may create tensions instead,” observes former University of Macau Professor Newman Lam.   

“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 in 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 housing prices started to drag his popularity down. By the time his two terms had expired, these problems had not been resolved,” political scientist Lam told Macau Business. 

“With democratisation advancing, albeit slowly, he handed a government that was nervous and lacking confidence to his successor who, from an interesting perspective, has been smart enough to pursue safety rather than achievement. But, unresolved problems have a way of growing and becoming bigger and more serious. Public discontent will build up quietly. Then, it explodes.” 

If the former Chief Executive was planning a quiet and smooth end to his term, the fact is that for Edmund Ho the crisis could not have come at a worse time, a few months away, when the replacement process was under way. 

Best example: Chui Sai On’s predecessor visited China eleven times in 2008, not including trips to Guangzhou Province! He went to Beijing five times (within 10 months) and still met with Xi Jinping in Sichuan and with Li Keqiang in Chengdu [by contrast, in his first full year of 2010, Chui Sai On went to Beijing twice, but left more than Ho, especially for visits to the neighbouring province]. 

“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” – Newman Lam 

“Despite the global recession, Macau registered another year of high rate of growth in 2008 and further progressed as an international gaming destination. Significantly, the local government continued to lose support for the gaming industry among many residents as the intensity of development increased,” we can read in Political Economy of Macao since 1999 – The Dilemma of Success 

“All of the government’s key policy initiatives during 2006–2010 were made under the circumstances of serious social unrest and a crisis of legitimacy,” state authors Hao, Sheng and Pan. 

Mixed blessing 

In addition to the University of Hong Kong, the University of Macau also conducts opinion studies on the MSAR. 

In April 2009, the local University conducted a survey targeting 907 Chinese-speaking Macau residents aged 18 or above. 

It is one of the most comprehensive tools available in Macau to understand ‘attitudes and beliefs towards the gaming industry’. The moment it was made makes it more special still. 

The study – entitled The impact of Gaming Liberalisation on Public Opinion and Political Culture – was published in a scientific paper by Newman Lam, included in the book Gaming, Governance and Public Policy in Macao (2011). 

The research findings reveal that “the political culture in Macau has been changing since the liberalisation of the gaming industry. The social effects of gaming liberalisation have been identified as one of the causes for the change. The survey results show that Macau people see the gaming industry and foreign investment as a mixed blessing,” wrote Professor Lam.  

However, a large majority supported gaming liberalisation, “slightly more than half of the respondents did not consider the benefits from industry sufficient to outweigh the social costs,” he said. “Women, young people and those from poorer families tended to attribute more blame to the gaming industry and foreign investment for Macau’s recent problems. However, the government was consistently identified by the respondents as the major source or their problems.” 

Bruce Kwong

Ho “played the role of kingmaker rather than economic catalyst” 

Bruce Kwong is one of the few political scientists living in Macau. The Assistant Professor, Department of Government and Public Administration, University of Macau, answers two questions from Macau Business: 

How do you politically assess this period and the role played by Edmund Ho? 

Bruce Kwong – Ho was quite lucky in his time as second term CE when the financial tsunami took place in the last year of his term. He did not have to do so much to cope with the crisis. Indeed, I was/am always asserting that the financial tsunami hurt Macau very little (or China, except for currency depreciation problems probed by US Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke). On the other hand, Macau earned so many ‘sweeties’ when Wen Jiabo, the Premier of the PRC, announced a Chinese style of QE [Quantitative Easing] in 2008.  

So, you can see that Ho did not, and did not have to, put forth any policy dealing with the global crisis but instead did something to help Chui, his good friend, in winning the CE electoral show to continue his lineage. It was revealed by some reports that so many of Ho’s friends and partners were elected to the Election Committee they eventually occupied almost three-quarters of the membership of the entire committee!  

Therefore, I think he did very, very little to deal with the crisis; instead, he played the role of kingmaker rather than economic catalyst. After all, he had done so much to [change] Macau’s economy since 2003. I can still remember that he created so many gimmicks to induce tourists, such as ‘this year is the year of such-and-such’ and ‘that year is the year of such-and-such’. 

On the political side, he unintentionally planted a lot of political landmines (he was not aware of) for his successor, such as mass demonstrations taking place at least twice a year; political participation of the young generations rapidly increasing; the one-off cash partaking scheme becoming a standing expenditure every year; CE election remaining uncontested; people starting to challenge government policy since the motor bikes protest against the Traffic Law in 2009; and the maladministration of public works (e.g.) the LRT, and land [concession] expiry, etc. All these were major problems left for the new CE. 

When Ho handed the ‘briefcase’ to his successor had the problems been resolved and the crisis averted? 

B.K. –Although Chui was criticised as a puppet of his predecessor he enacted many measures to stiflethe rumours. It is evident that Chui tried his best to resolve these problems in the shadow of the financial crisis although the outcomes are not particularly outstanding. But, it is unfair if one criticises that Chui has not been successful in managing these problems.  

First, he appointed a Macanese director to settle the lands problem, which, I would say, is very successful in improving land related problems to a very large extent, and that this remarkable appointment is a pragmatic and courageous move [paving the way] to the success of his lands policies. We must, according to your question regarding the 2008 crisis, note that the announcement of invalidation of all the concession lands did not affect the economy after the crisis.  

Secondly, Chui has dealt with those unfavourable policies very cautiously. He would rather like to avoid taking political risks by withdrawing the policies than table them in the legislature, in order to diminish the possibility of stoking public discontent.  

However, he cannot settle the decades-long Administration problems: bureaucratic problems remain the same as usual and the cash partaking scheme has to be continued. Perhaps he has already done a good job and all the unsettled issues will be part of the gifts in the ‘briefcase’ he gives his successor.