David Bandurski from the China Media Project has a post about the same direct elections China Elections and Governance explored a few days ago:
In practice, people’s congress representatives at the local level are often appointed by Party leaders, and they have little real power to influence local political decisions. Elections are supervised by higher government authorities, so there is ample opportunity for manipulation of the results. Speak to most Chinese about what they know about local elections, and you’ll get incredulous looks. Who gave you the knuckle-brained idea there is such a thing in China? But local citizen candidates have stood successfully in elections before, as this user on Sina Weibo, called “Panama Straw Hat” (巴拿马草帽), noted on June 4th: “I also voted before in university, and selected a teacher from my department. Later, when I went to the government office to handle some stuff, this teacher said, if they have a bad attitude you tell me. People’s Congress representatives can exercise their right of supervision. I’ve kept and treasured my ballot receipt ever since.”
It’s easy to argue that these political rights are worth less than the paper they are written on — not unlike the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression in Article 35, which is up against a massive media control regime.
Still, even granting that this is not a sea change, even granting that there are massive institutional hurdles to real political participation in China, can’t we recognize that this recent outpouring of interest in the idea of “independent” people’s congress candidacy is an interesting and important sign of growing political consciousness among Chinese?
Chinese journalists, academics, lawyers and internet users have hammered home the point over the past couple of weeks that one major problems historically has been that few Chinese are aware of the constitutional rights they ostensibly do have. Fewer still have ever tested them. What we’ve seen over the past week is the determination to do exactly that. And how this will unfold is certainly a story worth watching.
He says it’s easy to argue that these rights aren’t worth as much as the paper they’re printed on- and yeah, it is easy to argue that. Very easy. Before, you had no ability to run for office- and now you have the ability to run for a reasonably useless office and still be crushed and knocked out of the race by the government.
It’s definitely an interesting story, and we’ll continue to follow it here- but I can’t endorse a handful of microblog comments as an ‘outpouring of interest.’ Not yet, anyway. It may eventually develop into such a thing, and I’d be happy to see that happen. Right now, though, I can understand why this story is getting limited play in the international media.