September 3, 2014 / 3:09 AM / 4 years ago

Macau poll reveals democracy urges amid Hong Kong row with China

HONG KONG Sep 3(Reuters) - An unofficial referendum on democracy in the southern Chinese gambling hub of Macau showed 89 percent of nearly 9,000 people who took part don’t trust their leader, who was re-elected on Sunday as the sole candidate.

Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui speaks at a news conference after winning Macau's chief executive election in Macau July 26, 2009. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

An official panel elects Macau’s leader, similar to neighboring Hong Kong where a committee of largely pro-Beijing loyalists chooses who gets on the ballot, effectively rendering the ability to vote meaningless.

Fernando Chui was returned to office by a panel of 400 largely pro-China loyalists in Macau, a former Portuguese colony.

Data released on the poll’s online site showed that 7,762 of 8,688 voters did not have confidence in Chui, while 95 percent of the voters said they supported universal suffrage by 2019.

Authorities were quick to disrupt the unofficial poll, shutting polling booths and arresting five people for breaching privacy laws.

“We are still very vulnerable to police harassment,” Jason Chao, 27, one of the organizers, said.

“The Chinese government was the one who ordered the rampant suppression of the civil referendum initiatives. Now the Chinese government wants to be tougher against civil movements in Macau and Hong Kong.”

Activist groups in Macau had staged the unofficial referendum among the 600,000 residents to coincide with Sunday’s re-election, following a similar informal vote in the former British colony of nearby Hong Kong.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, followed two years later by Macau, now the world’s biggest gambling center.

Both enjoy wide-ranging autonomy and free speech not permitted on the mainland, but Communist Party leaders in Beijing fear calls for democracy in the “special administrative regions”, as Hong Kong and Macau are known, could spread to cities on the mainland.

Macau authorities have moved to smother civil movements, taking a harder line than in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy activists have been pushing for universal suffrage, prompting a clash with police on Monday after China ruled out full democracy.

Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Nick Macfie

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