Leader's visit fails to highlight favourite for top Macau job

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 January, 2009, 12:00am

Those who kept their eyes peeled yesterday for handshakes reminiscent of a famous meeting in 1996 between then president Jiang Zemin and future Hong Kong boss Tung Chee-hwa were let down.

Vice-President Xi Jinping was making his first visit to Macau as a state leader.

Unfortunately for observers, he appeared to be shaking everyone's hand with the same strength and warmth, and for an equal length of time, giving little hint on who might take Macau's top government post.

At the Macau Dome stadium, the vice-president met three hopefuls for the Macau government's top job, among other big names.

A new chief executive will be elected by a 300-member committee in the summer to replace Edmund Ho Hau-wah, who is to step down in December.

It is commonly understood that a candidate must win Beijing's favour to become the leader of Hong Kong or Macau.

Political analysts had said Mr Xi might 'bless' a Beijing-favoured candidate, showering goodwill on him so as to gauge the public's general acceptance.

Culture minister Fernando Chui Sai-on, executive councillor Ho Iat-seng, chief prosecutor Ho Chio-meng and finance minister Francis Tam Pak-yuen are all seen as contenders.

But Ho Iat-seng pulled a surprise last week by telling the press he had no intention of running for the position of chief executive.

No one has openly declared an interest in running. When asked about his interest in running for the top job, Ho Chio-meng smiled and said: 'Let's not discuss it today.'

In 1996, Mr Jiang, then president of China, singled out Mr Tung from a big crowd in Beijing's Great Hall of the People and gave him a vigorous handshake in front of photographers. Mr Tung was later appointed Hong Kong's first chief executive.

Political commentator Camoes Tam Chi-keung said it was inappropriate to compare Mr Xi to Mr Jiang.

'Xi is not as powerful as Jiang in the 1990s, whose words carried absolute weight,' Mr Tam said. He said people would have to wait until after the Lunar New Year before they could be surer of Beijing's choice. The government might have an idea who should lead Macau, but it had not made a final decision, he said.

'It's perhaps time to find out who is disliked by the Macau people so as to avoid picking someone like Ao Man-long,' Mr Tam said.

Ao was the former secretary of transport and public works who was jailed for 27 years last January after being found guilty of 57 counts of corruption, money-laundering, abuse of power and related crimes.

Five Lehman Brothers-linked minibonds buyers from Hong Kong, who wanted to hand a petition to Mr Xi, were refused entry to Macau yesterday.

The five wanted to meet the vice-president and express their discontent over the bank's sales of complex financial instruments.

They were also trying to get their money back.

Once they arrived in Macau at about 6pm, immigration officers refused to allow them to pass the checkpoint. They returned to Hong Kong an hour later.