Ho Iat Seng to run for Macau CE

Whenever Hong Kong politicians and media refer to the GBA as “Hong Kong and the 10 cities”, one has to feel for Macau. The other SAR, although less than a tenth of Hong Kong’s size, deserves better credit for its key role in the region’s “9+2” masterplan. Macau is slated to integrate with the GBA primarily via Hengqin island, but it is also expected to act as a bridge between China and the Lusophone countries. The former Potuguese colony’s casino revenues, meanwhile, are driving the growth of a world-class tourism industry on the western side of the Bay and will continue to provide an economic engine for thousands of SMEs throughout the region in the coming years.

Moreover, there is clearly a much bigger, more carefully guarded, role for Macau to play in the GBA’s integration over the remainder of the 50-year  term outlined in the SAR’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. It is to forge ahead in finding creative ways to merge the legal and regulatory systems of the three vastly different jurisdictions of Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong. Nearly halfway to 2047, Hong Kong is incessantly paralysed by political gridlock; Macau, on the other hand, has two things going for it: a populace less inclined to agitate for broader political participation, and a political/business/bureaucratic elite less steeped in colonial-era institutionalized mindsets. The city’s community of lawyers, academics and other thought-leaders is better positioned to find outside-the-box solutions to the conundrum of how to merge East and West ideologically and legally upon the expiration of the two SARs’ agreements with their former colonial masters.

The person who will likely get started on that effort stood up yesterday and declared his candidacy for Macau’s Chief Executive election. Ho Iat Seng (pronounced ho yat seng) is currently the president of Macau’s legislature. He has been the focus of intense speculation in Macau for many years, accelerating in recent months as the election has drawn nearer, as to his political ambitions. His announcement yesterday that he will resign his position on the NPC Standing Committee in Beijing  (which alone speaks volumes of his political pedigree) and run in the elections is being widely seen as Beijing’s informal nod for him to take the job.

There is still the formality of an election to go through, of course, and it is possible that the current Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Lionel Leong, will stand against him, which will ignite further speculation about a competitive tussle for the reins of power in Macau. But no well-informed analysts still think this will be more than a show.

Ho is an interesting person, as a recent backgrounder from Macau Business magazine explains (available to subscribers in PDF). His grandfather founded the forerunner of today’s flagship newspaper, Oumun Yatbo (Macau Daily News) and his father began building the family’s industrial fortune in the 1950s. What is more interesting for current events, however, is how Ho chose to prioritize his statements to the media when announcing his candidacy yesterday. As reported by Macau Business:

When replying about the reasons for accepting entering the “hot kitchen”, Mr. Ho said “many people put their expectations on me.”

“I could play an appropriate role in connecting the Macau and the Mainland legislative systems,” he told journalists. “I hope I could bring my legislative experience to the better integration of Macau into the Greater Bay Area and the development of a diversified economic environment.”

This is someone to watch in the coming days and months.

Tell us what you think