Eyes on the Wukan Election

First, Malcolm Moore files another report:

The first poll took place on Wednesday, in the village school, and, despite a small scuffle at the beginning over access for Hong Kong journalists, unfolded smoothly.

Orderly queues formed as villagers negotiated a complicated three-step voting procedure, designed to lend an air of gravitas to the proceedings.

The vote was to elect an eleven-man committee to organise the main election in March, but for most of the participants it was the symbolism of the event, rather than its purpose, that counted.

“We had to make a big thing, a big show, out of it to underline its importance and to guarantee that it was all fair and transparent,” said Yang Semao, one of the chief organisers.

“Wukan has been in the dark for so many years; its elections always manipulated. It is the first time we have done this so we want to do a good job,” he added. In the past few days, several academics and students have also arrived in Wukan, partly to observe the proceedings, and partly to offer advice to the villagers.

Mr Chen filled in his ballot, a sheet of A4 paper, at a table covered by a bright red tablecloth and deposited it in one of seven shiny aluminium ballot boxes. According to an official press release, he was one of 7688 eligible voters, with 1043 voting by proxy.

Another voter, 32-year-old Wang Huibing, said he hoped the new village administration would pay him the disability benefit that he has never yet been able to claim and would improve the village’s medical facilities. “We do not ask for much, and I am not sure what the outcome of this election will be, but I suppose it will be more fair and open.”

The oddly-named 818Hi has a report about Chinese reactions to the Wukan elections. I’m curious about how the Communist Party intends to allow Wukan to hold real elections, while still meddling with every single local election in the entire country in the future:

“This is a model,” Chinese real-estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang said Wednesday via the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo, where searches for Wukan were producing nearly a million posts.

“The start of something new,” observed another user of the service.

For many, the election brought to mind one of Mao Zedong’s favorite revolutionary slogans/sayings: “If you want freedom and democracy, you have to fight for it yourself,” wrote one Internet user in the popular discussion forum Maoyan Kanren. “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”

Others saw in the elections a rebuke of people, like martial-arts star Jackie Chan, who’ve questioned whether Chinese culture is compatible with democratic government.

“After this, whoever says Chinese people aren’t good enough for democracy, I’ll sue the bastard,” one particularly excited blogger promised on Sina Weibo.

Not everyone saw the election as the harbinger of a democratic China. Some dismissed it as a show, saying Wukan’s election, like elections in other villages, would be bought. Others tried to temper expectations.

“This is an election supported by detailed regulations in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China,” Yang Hua, a fire control engineer from Shandong province, wrote on his Weibo feed. “It’s not new and it doesn’t count as reform, but it is a symbol of the implementation of the constitution.”

Still others found time to poke fun at makeshift quality of the vote. “That’s unique,” one Weibo user wrote in response to a photo of several people crammed into a single pink voting booth. “Are they a family?”

Still, the mood among those who took the time to comment was overwhelmingly optimistic.

“History always moves forward. This is something no one can change,” read one post in the Maoyan Kanren forum. “Congratulations to the people of Wukan!”

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Filed under democracy, Guangzhou Model

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