| HONG KONG
HONG KONG Aug 29 Macau chief executive Fernando
Chui is widely expected to be "re-elected" on Sunday after the
pro-China government stifled an unofficial referendum on
democracy, taking a much harder line on the gambling hub than
leaders have in neighbouring Hong Kong.
The election in the tiny but wealthy former Portuguese-run
enclave, by a select panel of 400 largely pro-China loyalists
with Chui the only candidate, echoes the struggle in Hong Kong,
where activists have been pushing for universal suffrage since
China reclaimed the British colony in 1997.
Both territories are now "special administrative regions" of
China, enjoying wide-ranging freedoms unavailable on the
mainland, but presenting Communist Party leaders in Beijing with
a headache as calls for democracy grow. China is terrified those
calls will spread to mainland cities, threatening the party's
grip on power.
Eric Sautede, a former professor of politics at Macau's
University of Saint Joseph who was sacked for expressing his
political views, said Beijing could crack down more easily in
Macau than in Hong Kong because of the "limited grassroots
"None of the people in charge in Macau ever praised
democratic values," he said. "They only praise consultation,
scientific governance and harmony."
The election in Macau coincides with a meeting of China's
parliament which is expected to limit 2017 elections for Hong
Kong's leader to a handful of candidates, a move likely to
escalate plans by pro-democracy activists to blockade the city's
Central business district.
But so far, it is the Macau activists who have fared the
worst, with five detained for staging the unofficial referendum
on democracy, nearly two months after activists angered Beijing
by conducting a similar poll in Hong Kong.
Macau, which returned to China in 1999, does not have a
history of activism, unlike Hong Kong, where the Legislative
Council is polarised between pro-Beijing conservatives and those
calling for a free vote.
Larry So, a Macau-based commentator, said the crackdown on
the civil referendum was an overreaction.
"The term civil referendum is a very sensitive touchy
political term. If there wasn't an issue in Hong Kong, they
(authorities) wouldn't react in this way," he said.
"The central government (Beijing) has been coming down very
hard. They would prefer that the term civil referendum did not
exist. This is why they have behaved in such a strong way."
Macau authorities moved quickly to disrupt the poll,
shutting polling booths and arresting the five people for
breaching privacy laws.
"The local government and the Chinese government are very
sensitive about the civil referendum. Beijing's concern is at
the national level, that it fears if Macau now has a civil
referendum, other mainland Chinese cities may learn from the
experience," said Jason Chao, one of the poll's organisers.
Macau had been largely apolitical, but as per capita income
in the territory of 600,000 soared above Switzerland, residents
became vocal. In May, more than 20,000 took to the streets to
protest against inequalities and poor public services.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping consolidates power, there
have been growing signs of Beijing's encroaching authority in
Macau, home to 35 casinos and the only place in China where
casino gambling is legal. Operators include U.S. companies Las
Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and MGM China
A new People's Liberation Army garrison has been stationed
opposite the casino strip, Beijing's "liaison office" in Macau
has expanded and in the past two months two university
professors, including Sautede, have been sacked for being
"It was not because of my performance," said Bill Chou,
sacked from the University of Macau. "It was because of my
political belief. I was disciplined because I was not
Macau's residents have traditionally had a strong affinity
with the mainland, with around half of its population born there
and maintaining strong business and family ties.
But younger residents have become aware of the discrepancy
between the wealth and the dire public services, including its
overrun single public hospital.
"This is really the infancy of people realizing their
frustrations, their disenchantment and their frustration at the
system," Sautede said.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Nick Macfie)