Macau held its first competitive poll yesterday for members of the election committee that will choose the city's next chief executive in August.
But that was not enough to satisfy critics, who said more than 99 per cent of residents in the former Portuguese enclave would still have no say.
Only 5,448 people were qualified to vote for the 344 seats on the election committee out of a shortlist of 352 candidates from various sectors - the first time that there were more runners than available seats.
The remaining 56 representatives were chosen by the political sector - including the city's legislature, members of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference - and by the religious sector, which is not required to follow the rules imposed on other sectors.
"Although it sounds like an unprecedented situation where some members would not be elected uncontested again, people in Macau still regard it as a game in which they have no chance to participate," said activist Sulu Sou Ka-hou of the pan-democrat group Macau Conscience.
The group protested outside polling stations to condemn the "small-circle election", handing out pamphlets printed with a big Chinese character for "ugly".
"We hope the electors understand that this is a very ugly election," Sou said. "It allows the politically privileged to pick the chief executive, whereas more than 99 per cent of Macau residents have no say in the race."
Competition only existed in the labour, education and sports sectors. In many other sectors, such as commercial and professional, lone candidates ran unopposed. No pan-democrats ran for election to the committee.
Macau watcher Larry So Man-yum said the so-called competition did not make the election more representative.
"Different sectors in Macau have long been coordinating the list for the election. It's just that they failed to come up with a perfect one this time," he said.
Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on, who is seeking a second five-year term, bowed to public pressure last month and shelved a bill that would have given lavish retirement packages to former officials.
Thousands took to the streets to protest against the plan in what was the biggest march in Macau since the June 4, 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
But So believed it was very likely that Chui would be reelected, as the new election committee would not want any great changes.