The so-called ‘Macau Style’: Hong Kong Chief Executive election

In 4 April, the current Chief Executive (CE) Carrie Lam announced that she will not run the upcoming Hong Kong CE election. Two days later, John Lee resigned from his role as Chief Secretary, and announced his run for the election.

John Lee, the only Hong Kong CE election candidate now. Photo: GovHK.

Since then, pro-Beijing media has been promoting why Lee is the most suitable candidate. Everything is so well-planned, though the general public in Hong Kong are more or less expect this to happen. Without doubt, he will be the Hong Kong CE for the next five years.

In previous years, although everyone knew who were going to be elected, there were still two to three candidates participating in the election campaign. However, according to source, Lee will very likely to be the only candidate who will receive enough nomination from the Election Committee this time. This will be first time in Hong Kong CE election. Some pro-Beijing observer describes this as the ‘Macau Style’ CE election.

What is the ‘Macau Style’?

In a CE election in Hong Kong and Macau, candidates for the office of CE need to be nominated jointly by certain number of members from the Election Committee according to the Basic law. Therefore, it is possible to have few candidates. A ‘Macau Style’ election, however, refers to a CE election where only one person receives sufficient nomination to become the sole candidate. Hence, there is no contest in the election.

In Hong Kong, political spectrum has been diversified, and, thereby, there are usually two to three candidates in the election. Some argue that these people represent the severity of factional politics in the pro-establishment camp. For example, in the 2017 election, Carrie Lam, Woo Kwok-hing and John Tsang all received sufficient nomination to become official candidates. Notwithstanding, prior to 2017, the pan-democracy camp usually had enough Election Committee members to nominate one candidate to run the election, such as Alan Leong in 2007 and Albert Ho in 2012, although they were unable to win the election eventually.

Conversely, politics in Macau is dominated by oligarchy. Therefore, political leaders are predetermined among respected families in order to balance their interests. In the last three CE election in Macau, there were always only one candidate running for the election. Although some people expressed their interests to participate, they were unable to receive enough nomination to become a candidate.

Both the first and second CE, Edmund Ho and Fernando Chui, come from the two of the three families in Macau.

Now, the Macau-style election is likely also happening in Hong Kong.

The United Front

The most obvious reason for this is to reduce political diversity in Hong Kong. After all the social unrest since 2019, Beijing determined that political diversity was one of the deep-rooted problems that caused rifts in the society. It encouraged the bloom of political views in the pan-democratic camp, but created factions in the pro-establishment camp – both created difficulties in government’s decision making.

Therefore, it imposed more control in the political system. On 11 March 2021, the National People Congress amended Annex I of the Basic Law. While it declared the amendment was to reform Hong Kong electoral system, it was about limiting political participation from parties and lobbying groups.

Those reform measures happened to be effective in the Legislative Council election last year. There was no significant contest during the election (This was also due to the National Security Law). Seats among the pro-establishment camps were seemingly predetermined. Pan-democratic voices were nearly eliminated. A few of them were able to run the election; only one person was elected. Arguably, he was regarded as a ‘traitor’ of the pan-democratic camp, given by his close connection with the government.

Apparently, Beijing would like to imitate a similar outcome of last year’s election, which is still being ‘democratic’, but remains a tight control of the process and the result.

For example, under the new electoral system, “Candidates for the office of the CE shall be nominated jointly by not less than 188 Members of the Election Committee, among whom the number of members of each sector should not be less than 15.” It is more difficult for people to become an official candidate. Instead of seeking certain Committee members’ interests, they need to be representative from a wide political spectrum in the Election Committee. This can only done if you have support from the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government, who is the highest authority of all pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong. 

That says, the ‘Macau Style’ CE election aimed to reduce factionalism in the pro-establishment camp. By ensuring a more united voice since the beginning of the election campaign, the next HKSAR government does not have to spend too much effort in negotiating with various interests group in the next five years, because it is expected that it has already gained supports by people from a wide political spectrum.  

A more alienated government

As I wrote last year, ‘when a government loses its legitimacy it either will be overthrown by its people, or pursues more repression through authoritarianism’. Beijing clearly has no choice by pursuing a ‘reform’ that makes Hong Kong more authoritarian.

Both the political reform and adoption of the ‘Macau Style’ over-simplify the political culture in Hong Kong. Unlike policy elite in China, while various policy elites have different political interests, they also represent different social classes. For example, the Liberal Party represents business elite; New People’s Party represents the middle class; the HKFTU represents the working class. The government needs their voices to introduce more comprehensive policies. Carrie Lam’s government failed to encounter the pandemic recently was an example of how public policies only caters certain groups’ of interests when the government receive one-sided opinions. Not to mention, the absence of the pro-democratic politicians will further alienate people’s preference and government’s decision-making, given that at least 60% of Hong Kong people supports the pan-democratic camp.

Prosperity and stability?

Frankly, how the CE election runs has nothing to do with people in Hong Kong. It is indeed a small-circle election that loses its legitimacy. It only demonstrates political suppression and alienation from political elites in the city. However, these are not Beijing’s major concerns. Instead, by eliminating most disagreed opinions, it is expected the HKSAR government could implement its policies effectively with little resistance, and thereby to ensure ‘Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability’.

Will Beijing achieve its goal? Well, it depends on how you understand its political rhetoric. But one thing for sure, Hong Kong will be more authoritarian in the next five years.

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