Special Report – Not even Edmund Ho was so popular

The population is very satisfied with the work carried out by the Executive in combating the new coronavirus. And praise even comes from well-known political opponents. 

MB December 2020 Special Report | Ho Iat Seng – Year 1

The population is very satisfied with the work carried out by the Executive in combating the new coronavirus. And praise even comes from well-known political opponents. 

Ho Iat Seng achieved a unique feat in this first year: he is being complimented not only by those who traditionally praise power in Macau, but also by those who usually criticize it. 

New Macau Association legislator Sulu Sou said: “The Government has improved, both in terms of transparency and in terms of communication with the population and with the Legislative Assembly.” Veteran opposition lawmaker Au Kam Sam, after the announcement of the closure of casinos as a way to fight the epidemic, praised the measure and devalued the concerns of some employers, considering that the security of the territory was more important and that there was capacity to endure a period with reduced revenues. 

Former New Macau Association legislator Paul Wan Chai Chi said: “It is clear from this type of action that Ho Iat Seng is a person who seeks the truth from the facts. And, thanks to his way of dealing with events, the response of the Government of Macau and the measures that were taken in terms of preventing and controlling the spread of the new coronavirus in the city were quick and positive.” 

Lawmaker Pereira Coutinho from the Macau Civil Servants Association remarked: “In a society like Macau, a good leader is very important. It does not matter whether we live in a democracy or not. It is a concept that does not arouse much interest among the population.” This comment may be surprising for those who follow politics in Macau from an outsider’s perspective, but not for those who understand what residents think. 

A first study, conducted in early February by the Macao Polling Research Association, indicated that 9 out of 10 residents were satisfied with the local government’s measures. One month later, an opinion survey carried out by the Macau Women’s General, collecting more than 1,000 interviews, resulted in a rating of 8.4 points out of 10 for Government action. Some 85 per cent of respondents expressed support for the measures implemented and 95 per cent praised the mask supply plan. A new study from the Macao Polling Research Association, made in July, showed that 94.7 per cent of the respondents are satisfied with the overall performance of the Macau government in dealing with the prevention of the epidemic. 

What makes this even more surprising is that the Chief Executive has virtually had no time to govern beyond the COVID-19 crisis management mode. Ten days after taking office and one day after his New Year’s speech, casinos started taking customers’ temperature. On January 22, the first local case was detected, and on February 4 the one that can be considered the most daring and symbolic of decisions was taken: the two-week closing of all casinos for the first time in history. 

Is it fair to say that problems for Ho Iat Seng will probably start once the pandemic ends? 

 Ieong Meng U: “To rebuild the public confidence on the government” 

“The COVID-19 is definitely a nightmare for ordinary people, but at least for Ho Iat-Seng, the crisis provides him a chance to rebuild the public confidence on the government. And if compared with Hong Kong, the Macau government had done two very correct policies. The first is closed the borders (even officially the government never said so), as we know it seems the best way to control infection without vaccine. Second, the government gives promise on the supplement on face mask to appease public panic” 

Sonny Lo: “Credit must be given to the Chief Executive” 

“Basically Macau did well because of several reasons — its small size and population, its swiftness in closing the border with Hong Kong and outside and China, and its gradual relaxation with the border with China, as well as sufficient provision of masks, and credit must be given to the Chief Executive who visited Chinese infectious disease expert Zhong Nanshan much earlier to prepare Macau’s measures against Covic-19. The role of government monitoring was essential, including the tracking down of mainland tourists in different hotels, the use of good IT data at the border checkpoint and customs/immigration, and the need for citizens to wear masks. Vigilant attitude of the public and the public-private partnership is important, as the closing down of casinos for some days needed the understanding and support of the casino industry and businesspeople concerned.” 

José Álvares:  “To protect the local population” 

“An official not directly elected by the people has a harder time to earn the trust of the people – H.I.S. got his legitimacy with the handling of this crisis because his priority was abundantly clear from the get-go: to protect the local population (and he is still doing it). The more ‘controversial’ measures, such as the ban on non-Chinese nationals, is merely a risk-benefit exercise if one is to take into account that 90% of Macau’s tourism is supported by China. With a tally of 46 cases, all recovered, that is an impressive record for a city with one of the highest population density.”