Out from the shadow of the family tree
In politics, family ties can be invaluable. Past and present members of the American 'political royalty' include the Adams, Tafts, Kennedys, Bushes and, of course, the Clintons. And, for us, we need to look no further than Macau.
The Chui family name no doubt propelled Fernando Chui Sai-on right into the seat of the new chief executive-[s]elect the same way that Dr Chui's predecessor, Edmund Ho Hau-wah, inherited Macau's top post a decade ago. Dr Chui's uncontested victory came as no surprise, especially since he ended the election even before it began by getting 286 nominations from the 300-member Election Committee.
Macanese politics has been dominated by the Ho, Chui and Ma families since the 1960s; their influence stems firmly from their philanthropy as much as their riches. The earliest Ho-Chui-Ma trio (Ho Yin, Chui Tak-kei and Ma Man-kei) earned their political pedigree by getting the colonial government to apologise for the 1966 riots and gaining the trust of both Beijing and Lisbon. Even to this day, many who lived through Macau's turbulent days remain loyal to anyone bearing one of the three family names.
But today, just as many Macau residents - especially the young and the immigrants - are not happy about the families' political domination. And for Dr Chui, his family ties are hurting him as much as they have helped him. The Chui family's wide span of commercial interests led to staunch resistance against his candidacy, leading some to place an ad in Hong Kong newspapers to voice their objections. Tainted by the Ao Man-long corruption scandal and plagued by social ills brought on by phenomenal economic development, Macau's political royalty is losing the public's loyalty.
While Dr Chui secured his seat with ease, his toughest campaign has only just begun because, clearly, winning the hearts of 550,000 residents is far more challenging than winning over the Election Committee. With 80 per cent of netizens having voted against him in an online poll in June, and the election for Macau's legislature next month, Dr Chui's political survival will depend on how quickly he can translate his pledge for reform into action.
Already seen as being no different from his predecessor, Dr Chui must escape the shadows of the past administration by building his cabinet with new faces whose credentials amount to more than just a family name. With new faces must come new ideas - not only cash handouts to placate social discontent - to tackle real social issues like illegal labour, unemployment, the wealth gap and unaffordable housing.
His promise to bring about a clean government must amount to more than his mere pledge to uphold the 'Sunshine Law', passed in 1995, which required civil servants to declare their incomes and properties. With family members owning commercial interests that span construction, finance, tourism and health, Dr Chui must separate his public duties from his private ones. Questionable cheap land purchases cannot reoccur during his tenure. Real reform comes not from continuing the work of the last chief executive, but from the courage and conviction to find, cite and fix the inadequacies and mistakes of his former boss.
He must break from the past and reliance on his family name. The only way he can deliver on his vow to address the issue of democracy is by involving Macau residents - and not just the Hos, Chuis and Mas - in the decision-making process so that participation in Macau politics is not a privilege only for the rich and powerful few.
'A man can't make a place for himself in the sun if he keeps taking refuge under the family tree,' said Helen Keller. For Dr Chui, upholding his family name will only be possible if he is able to break new ground as a leader with the wisdom to guide Macau towards a better future and the determination to look out for the interests of all its citizens.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA