Updated: 08/31/2014 05:59 | By Agence France-Presse

Unchallenged Macau leader set for a second term

Macau is set to re-elect its incumbent leader in an unchallenged contest Sunday as the gambling hub faces growing calls for democracy amid anger over deteriorating living conditions and government accountability.

Unchallenged Macau leader set for a second term

A volunteer displays a banner on a street to raise awareness of an unofficial referendum in Macau on August 24, 2014 - by Dale de la Rey

The booming city's sole chief executive candidate Fernando Chui will be selected by a 400-strong pro-Beijing electoral committee for a second term, in a foregone contest which pro-democracy advocates have called "ridiculous".

The former Portuguese colony has grown wealthy off the proceeds of its gambling industry, which rakes in enormous sums of cash, predominantly from wealthy Chinese mainlanders.

Compared to its more vocal neighbour Hong Kong, Macau has traditionally been politically apathetic as long as business continues to boom. 

But there have been signs of political discontent as concerns grow over the city's future and how it will be decided. 

In the past week more than 8,000 people have cast votes in an unofficial referendum calling for greater rights which activists says is part of their nascent attempt to establish a democratic system.

"When there are only 400 people that are voting and when these 400 people have no choice, this is ridiculous," Sulu Sou, a member of the pro-democracy group Macau Conscience, told AFP.

"Macau residents are starting to open up to the idea of democracy," Sou said, adding that more people have been taking to the streets in the past few years.

On Saturday, employees of gambling tycoon Stanley Ho's SJM took part in industrial action calling for better wages and working conditions, causing some disruptions at gambling tables, organisers told AFP.

In May around 20,000 people marched against a bill allowing government ministers generous retirement packages in a display of popular protest virtually unseen before in Macau.

"Wage increases have plateaued, while living costs and property costs have continued to go up," Sou said.

- Macau's residents 'complacent' -

The former Portuguese colony returned to Chinese rule in 1999 and has a separate legal system from the mainland.

"Macau's political system is paternalistic and democratisation lacks legal basis," analyst Sonny Lo, who specialises in Macau politics, told AFP.

"Most of the Macau people are pretty complacent and satisfied with the current economic situation," Lo said, describing the city's middle class.

But Lo said the territory's younger democratic campaigners were much more likely to clash with authorities than their parents, who were largely satisfied with the status quo.

Macau's gaming sector has seen a boom in recent years due to an influx of well-heeled Chinese gamblers, and overtook Las Vegas as the world's gaming capital in terms of revenue after the sector was opened up to foreign competition in 2002.

When he came into power in 2009, Chui said he would diversify the city's economy and rid the territory of its notorious reputation for corruption. 

"I don't think Chui will take any bold steps in order to revamp the political system," Lo said, adding that incremental change will be most likely.

"The Macau democrats will be bound to be dissatisfied."

"I hope that within the next five years, more people will wake up and more people will try to push for democracy, but I don't have high hopes for Chui," democracy advocate Sulu Sou said.

Hong Kong also held an informal poll on democratic reform in June which saw almost 800,000 people vote over 10 days on how the city's next leader should be chosen. 

A pro-democracy group, Occupy Central, has pledged to mobilise thousands of protesters to block the financial district if authorities refuse to allow the public to choose candidates.

The top committee of China's rubber-stamp legislature is expected to announce its decision Sunday afternoon on what form the political changes in the city will take.

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