sábado, 27 de junho de 2009

O lutador sombra

Shadow boxer
Fernando Chui is the lone contender for Macau chief executive but has yet to win over the people he will govern

Fox Yi Hu
South China Morning Post
June 25, 2009

Macau's big election is like a boxing match destined to end at the starting bell. Beijing's blue-eyed boy, Fernando Chui Sai-on, effectively won the chief executive poll early in the nomination period - before any challenger could step into the ring.

Apart from the fact that the man seen as the only possible challenger decided not to run, Dr Chui, the former culture minister, shut out any other potential opponent by winning over 286 people from the small circle of 300 voters who form the powerful Election Committee.

Whether he has the broad support of Macau people seems totally irrelevant. But the future leader may have underestimated the necessity, and challenge, of winning the battle for the people's hearts.

And if internet comments and Dr Chui's third place in an informal poll are any indication, the challenger who never was, Ho Chio-meng, appears to have the upper hand.

Analysts say Dr Chui faces an uphill task gaining people's support, given their growing concerns about graft and collusion between money and power interests. So far, he has shown little resolve to change a backward political system that is crying out for reform.

Eilo Yu Wing-yat, assistant professor of politics at the University of Macau, said people's grievances had been building up but Dr Chui had not answered them.

"A lot of social discontent is being left to get worse," Professor Yu said. "People fear that illegal acts will continue under a new leadership, and Chui's family background has caused concerns among them."

Dr Chui comes from one of Macau's few ruling clans. His late uncle, Chui Tak-kei, was a staunch Communist Party supporter when Macau was under Portuguese rule. An influential family background is seen as vital to winning over various interest groups in the special administrative region, where power and connections count for a great deal. Gaming mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun has declared his support for Dr Chui's candidacy.

But a huge corruption scandal has alerted Macau residents to money-power collusion and fuelled social campaigns against "businesspeople ruling Macau" - a play on "Macau people ruling Macau", enshrined in its Basic Law.

In April, former secretary for transport and public works Ao Man-long was jailed for 28-1/2 years on 81 counts of bribe-taking, money laundering and other crimes involving hundreds of millions of patacas.

Dr Chui's links to some of the projects for which Ao took bribes will not help him win over the public. Dr Chui was chief organiser of the East Asian Games held in Macau in 2005. Ao received 50 million patacas in kickbacks from the builder of the Macau Dome stadium, the main venue for the Games. The stadium cost 80 per cent more than budgeted, and the Games, as a whole, were 70 per cent, or 1.4 billion patacas, over budget.

"Chui has said he will fight graft and not favour businesspeople, but he falls short of going into details to convince people," Professor Yu said.

When he declared his candidacy on May 12, Dr Chui said he would answer people's call for clean government, adding: "In future, building a clean administration will be the basis for governance." Asked about the East Asian Games overrun, he admitted to "mistakes and negligence" during his 10 years as culture minister.

An election candidate would normally crave press coverage, but Dr Chui has so far declined all requests for interviews. Even at a press conference to deliver his election manifesto on May 25, he evaded an embarrassing question raised by a Macau resident.

A woman posing as a journalist to bypass identity checks by Dr Chui's election office asked about his family and business background and how his brother's company had acquired a site from the government at a below-market price in 2006.

Dr Chui did not answer and the woman was later sent out by security guards. Later that day, Dr Chui's election office issued a statement saying it reserved the right to take legal action against the woman for her pretence.

On June 16, when he handed in nomination forms to the government, Dr Chui declined to take questions from journalists. He made a short speech announcing his Election Committee nominations. He told a reporter who asked a question to wait until he had finished his speech, but then walked away after concluding it.

Dr Ho is Macau's chief prosecutor and was seen as Dr Chui's main rival until he announced he would not stand. Yet, he appears to have gained the upper hand in the battle for public support. On the city's popular internet forum, cyberctm.com, residents have voiced strong opposition to Dr Chui's candidacy.

Dr Ho also has a huge lead in a continuing internet poll - rendered pointless by Dr Chui's apparent victory - that asks residents to choose among four frontrunners. With 3,889 votes cast so far, Dr Ho has 2,497, or 64.2 per cent; industrialist Ho Iat-seng 545; Dr Chui 460; and Finance Minister Francis Tam Pak-yuen 387.

The poll runs on macauhero.com, an election-themed website created by residents. Its sample is so far the biggest among polls related to Macau's election, with each IP address limited to one vote.

Dr Chui has built his election manifesto around a theme of "inheritance and innovation", but "inheritance" is placed before "innovation" in his speeches.

Political commentator Larry So Man-yum said real reforms would be unlikely under the new leader, who looked set to follow in the footsteps of his former boss, Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah.

"We have seen little innovation by Chui during his 10 years in office," Professor So, of Macau Polytechnic Institute, said. "It's just not in his personality to innovate."

A source close to Dr Chui said he was a cautious person with a low appetite for risk, and Professor So said Macau's political and economic structures would remain unchanged, at least in Dr Chui's first term, unless Beijing imposed drastic changes.

On May 14, Dr Chui resigned as Macau's culture minister to run. Under Macau law, principal officials are barred from running for chief executive unless they resign before the nomination period.

The sole contender has nearly everything Beijing seems to like in a Macau chief executive. He has more than nine years of ministerial experience and, during that time, has earned a few feathers in his cap. These include Macau's successful application for UN heritage status for its historic sites, and the city's prevention of a severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, when the deadly virus gripped the mainland and Hong Kong.

Beijing has increasingly shown signs of favouring candidates with political experience, especially after businessman Tung Chee-hwa's failure as Hong Kong chief executive.

Dr Chui was born in Macau in January 1957. He received his higher education in the US and is among the best educated of Macau officials. He holds a bachelor's degree from California State University and a master's degree and a PhD in public health from the University of Oklahoma.

Dr Chui served as a Macau legislator from 1992 to 1995 and was appointed secretary for social and cultural affairs in 1999. He has played senior roles in some of the city's charities, including the Tung Sin Tong Charitable Society and the Macau Kiang Wu Hospital Charitable Association.

Professor Yu said Dr Chui still had plenty of time and opportunity to boost his popularity by reaching out to the public and facing up to some difficult questions. "Public speech is one of Chui's weaker points. He's under a lot of pressure to give the public explanations on certain issues."

But if Dr Chui fails to gain public support, the chances are that he will become a lame-duck leader, like Mr Tung, Professor Yu said.

"If there's a lack of popularity, we can't rule out the possibility of a Tung-style fall from power," Professor Yu said, "Macau people are fully aware that there's a Hong Kong precedent for how a local governing crisis can be dealt with [by the central government]."

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