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Unchallenged Macau leader gets elected for second term amid calling for democracy

HONG KONG -- Macau reelected 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.

The booming city's sole chief executive candidate Fernando Chui was voted in for a second term by 95 percent of a 400-strong pro-Beijing electoral committee, in a foregone contest which democracy advocates have called “ridiculous.”

“Chui was elected by 380 votes,” a Macau government spokesman told AFP. There were 13 blank and three invalid ballots among the 396 committee members who voted.

More than a dozen people marched and bowed in protest outside the venue where the vote was taking place.

“Every time we bow down we would like it to be a reminder that Macau people have no choice (in this election),” protester Sulu Sou told reporters.

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 neighbor 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 8,500 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,” Sou, a member of the pro-democracy group Macau Conscience, told AFP.

“Macau residents are starting to open up to the idea of democracy,” he 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 gaming tables, organizers told AFP.

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