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Reviewed by:
  • Political Change in Macao
  • Jonathan Porter (bio)
Sonny Shiu-Hing Lo . Political Change in Macao. Routledge Contemporary China Series. London: Routledge, 2008. xvi, 166 pp. Hardcover $160.00, ISBN 10: 0-415-39577-1.

Sovereignty over Macau was returned to the People's Republic of China (PRC) on December 20, 1999. Like Hong Kong, Macao became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the PRC, guaranteed to enjoy its former cultural, economic, and political status for at least fifty years under the "one country, two systems" formula. In this study, Sonny Shiu-Hing Lo examines the dimensions of political change in the decade (the book was published in 2008) since retrocession. From the start, the author characterizes Macao as "the most vibrant casino city in the world" (p. xv).

In the waning years of Portuguese rule, the casinos became increasingly a source of diverse problems including pervasive criminal competition among triad groups. The first task of the new administration was to bring this situation under control. In 2002, the gaming franchise was opened up to competitive bids, which resulted in the selection of three groups: the existing concession of Stanley Ho and two other Las Vegas operations, Wynn Resorts, owned by Steve Wynn, and the Venetian casino, owned by Sheldon Adelson. Casino capitalism is the "driving engine of Macao's entire economy" (p. xvi). Its proper management has been largely responsible for the success of the Macau Special Administrative Region [MSAR] administration under the stewardship of chief executive Edmund Ho.

Chapter 1, "Macao from Portuguese rule to legitimacy building after retrocession," assesses the changeover from Portuguese rule as a process of decolonization and efforts to establish legitimacy of the new regime. Aside from the stabilization of the casino industry, the centerpiece of Edmund Ho's program was reform of the civil service, which the author regards as "a revolutionary move attempting to transform the civil service culture from the rigidity and inefficiency of the Portuguese rule to flexibility and efficiency in the MSAR era" (p. 14). In Ho's ruling philosophy, "democratization" meant administrative modernization through building bureaucratic capacity, constrained by limits set by Beijing.

Chapter 2, "The bureaucracy and its reform," profiles the Macao civil service using several statistical tables that describe legal status of various categories, occupational categories, educational levels, recruitment and language competence, and salary ranges. The key to the legitimization of the Ho regime, according to the author, was to elevate the morale and professionalism of civil servants. Among the challenges facing the bureaucracy are public transportation, urban planning, labor issues, housing management, corruption, and effective communication with the public. Bureaucratic performance in these areas and others has revealed "a mismatch between a highly capable and strong leadership of Edmund Ho and the relatively weak capacity of the bureaucracy to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public service delivery" (p. 33).

"Political participation from elections to protests" is the subject of chapter 3. The son of Ho Yin, the powerful chairman of Macao General Chamber of Commerce and the liaison with Beijing during Portuguese rule, Edmund Ho retained the patronage of Beijing and was elected chief executive of the MSAR in [End Page 147] 1999 prior to retrocession. Ho was reelected to a second five-year term in 2004, clearly enjoying the confidence of the PRC. (This book was published in 2008 and, thus, does not include the end of the Ho regime in 2009.)

Legislative council elections in 2001 and 2005 were considerably more contentious than the chief executive elections. From the 2005 elections, the Legislative council comprised twelve directly elected, ten indirectly elected, and seven appointed members, for a total of twenty-nine legislators. The electorate has gradually expanded since the 1970s, with a dramatic increase in voters since the late 1990s. Prodemocracy groups have fought an uphill battle against the pro-Beijing and proestablishment parties, a reflection, according to the author, of deeply entrenched patron-clientilism. Growing labor militancy independent of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions climaxed in a violent confrontation between workers and police on May 1, 2007. This event marked a watershed in Macao's political development when Ho's legitimacy was challenged by prodemocracy forces, unemployed workers...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 146-149
Launched on MUSE
2012-03-01
Open Access
No
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