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Macau Table of Contents



Colonial Administration: Before December 20, 1999, Macau was an enclave under Portuguese colonial administration recognized both by Portugal and China as Chinese territory. A governor, appointed by the president of Portugal, headed the cabinet, which included the governor and seven undersecretaries (economic coordination; transport and public works; public security; justice; communications, tourism, and culture; administration, education, and youth; and social affairs and budget). From April 1991 to December 1999, Governor General Vasco Joachim Rocha Vieira was head of Macau's government.

A ten-member Consultative Committee represented the interests of the Chinese community and had five members appointed by governor and five elected indirectly. The colonial-era Legislative Assembly continues in the special administrative region. It was collocated with the executive branch at the Macau Government House (see Special Administrative Region, q.v.).

Government House

Government House, Macau's colonial-era seat of government. With Macau's reversion to China, Government House is slated to become a historical site. Courtesy Catherina Pang, Hong Kong Collection, Library of Congress

The legal system comprised the Courts of First Instance and higher courts; the General Court, with the authority of a judicial court and the power to pass sentence; and the Criminal Court, with control over preparatory instruction and preliminary inquiries. Appeals on decisions were heard by Macau's Supreme Court, which was established in 1992 with the power of final adjudication and the authority to decide in matters of administrative, fiscal, and customs law.

Special Administrative Region: In accordance with Article 31 of the Constitution of the People's Republic China, Macau has special administrative region status, which provides constitutional guarantees for implementing the policy of "one country, two systems" and the constitutional basis for enacting the Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region (see Legal System). Although geographically part of Guangdong Province, the Macau Special Administrative Region is directly under the authority of the central government of China in Beijing, which controls the foreign affairs and defense of Macau but otherwise grants the region "a high degree of authority." The Basic Law took force on December 20, 1999, and is to remain in effect for fifty years (that is, until 2049).

In May 1999, banker Edmund Ho Hau-wah was elected by the 200-member Chief Executive Selection Committee as the first chief executive of the Macau Special Administrative Region. Ho, born in Macau in 1955, was the first Chinese person to govern the region since the 1550s. Prior to December 20, 1999, Ho nominated major officials in the new government and carried out other transfer tasks. The executive branch of the Macau government has the following cabinet departments, each headed by a secretary: Administration and Justice, Economic and Financial Affairs, Security, Social Affairs and Culture, and Transport and Public Works. There also are two commissions, Against Corruption and Audit, and a chief public prosecutor. Upon Macau's reversion to China, the executive offices were moved from Macau Government House temporarily to the Banco Tai Fung.

The unicameral twenty-three-member Macau Legislative Assembly continues from the colonial-era administration. It has seven members who were appointed by the last Portuguese governor and eight members who were directly elected and eight members who were indirectly elected to four-year terms in September 1996. The next election is scheduled for September 2000. The Legislative Assembly is chaired by its president, industrialist Susana Chou, who is assisted by the vice president, lawyer Lau Cheok Va. It was relocated to a new building on Rua de Xangai, separate from the executive offices, in December 1999. The twenty-three-member assembly consists of eight members from direct elections, eight members from indirect elections, and seven members as appointed by the chief executive. With the exception of the current Legislative Assembly inaugurated on December 20, 1999, and whose members completed terms begun under the Portuguese administration, terms are for four years, with annual sessions running from October 15 to August 16. Standing committees perform the following functions: examination and issuance of reports and statements on projects and proposals of law, on resolutions and deliberations, and on proposals of alteration presented to the Legislative Assembly; examination of petitions submitted to the Legislative Assembly; voting on issues as approved in general by the Legislative Assembly General Meeting; and answering questions raised by the president or the General Meeting.

There also are two urban councils that have carried over from the colonial administration. One represents the Macau Peninsula and one represents Taipa and Coloane. Mayors were nominated by the Portugese governor and are answerable to their respective executive committee and municipal assembly

Macau's seven deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC) are selected by an electoral conference; they attended their first session of the NPC in Beijing in March 2000. Previously, in December 1999, the NPC Standing Committee approved the membership of the NPC Committee for the Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region, chaired by NPC Vice Chairman Qiao Xiaoyang, for a five-year term. Half of the ten members are from Macau, the others from mainland China. Macau also has representation on the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Macanese in traditional dress

Macanese dressed in traditional garb for the December 20, 1999, return of Macau to China's sovereignty.
Courtesy Catherina Pang, Hong Kong Collection, Library of Congress

Political Parties: Macau has no formal political parties. However, key groups representing the interests of business, labor, and social welfare are important. Those that participated in the September 1996 Legislative Assembly elections, the last to be held before Macau returned to China's sovereignty, were: União Promotora para o Progresso (UNIPRO, Union for Promoting Progress), Associação Promotora para a Economia de Macau (APPEM, Association for Promoting the Economy of Macau), União para o Desenvolvimento (UPD, Union for Development), Associação de Novo Macau Democrático (ANMD, New Democratic Macau Association), Convergência para o Desenvolvimento (CODEM, Convergence for Development), União Geral para o Desenvolvimento de Macau (UDM, General Union for the Development of Macau), Associação de Amizade (AMI, Friendship Association), Aliança para o Desenvolvimento da Economia (ADE, Alliance for the Development of the Economy), Associação dos Empregados e Assalariados (AEA, Employees and Wage-Earners Association), and Associação pela Democracia e Bem-Estar Social de Macau (ADBSM, Association for the Democracy and Social Well-Being of Macau). The APPEM won the most votes in the 1996 elections.

Foreign Affairs: The central government in Beijing controls the foreign affairs of Macau. The Commission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened its office in Macau on December 20, 1999. A central government agency, the commission interacts with the Macau government in matters of foreign policy. It also processes applications from foreign nations and international organizations wishing to establish consulates or representative offices in Macau. Macau also is authorized to handle some external affairs on its own. These affairs include economic and cultural relations and agreements it concludes with states, regions, and international organizations. In such matters, Macau functions under the name "Macao, China." Macau displays the flag and national emblem of the People's Republic of China but is also authorized to display its own regional flag and emblem. Taiwanese organizations in Macau are allowed to continue operations and are required to abide by the Basic Law.

International Organizations: Macau belongs to the Customs Cooperation Council; the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (associate member); the International Maritime Organization; the International Criminal Police Organization (subbureau); the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; the World Meteorological Organization; the World Tourism Organization(associate member); and the World Trade Organization.

Legal System: Prior to December 20, 1999, the laws of Portugal and the Portuguese judicial system applied. On December 20, 1999, under the sovereignty of China, the Macau Special Administrative Region was initiated, and the Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, adopted by the First Session of the Eighth National People's Congress (NPC), March 31, 1993, as constitutional law for Macau, took effect under China's "one country, two systems" policy. The Basic Law stipulates that Macau is an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China. The Basic Law has nine chapters, 145 articles, and three annexes that cover the relationship between the central government and Macau; the fundamental rights and duties of the residents; the political structure (chief executive, executive authorities, legislature, judiciary, district organizations, and public servants); the economy, cultural and social affairs; external affairs; and the amendment process.

Pubic Holidays: January 1 (New Year's Day), variable January-February (Lunar New Year's Day and Third Day of Lunar New Year), April 4 (Qingming Festival), variable March-April (Good Friday and Holy Saturday), May 1 (Labor Day), variable May (Buddha's Birthday), June 6 (Tuen Ng Festival), variable September (day after Mid-Autumn Festival), October 1 (National Day), October 6 (Chueng Yeung Festival), November 2 (All Souls' Day), December 8 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception), December 20 (Macau Special Administrative Region Day), December 21 (Winter Solstice), December 24 (Christmas Eve), and December 25 (Christmas Day).

Data as of August 7, 2000

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Macau Table of Contents