Category Archives: elections

“Vote as I say”

The Economist has an article about the grassroots elections. Nothing terribly new, but a bit of historical context:

Elections at the lowest tier of China’s multi-layered parliamentary structure are the only ones in which citizens can directly vote for their legislators. But the party likes to leave nothing to chance. Citizens can, in theory, stand for election with support from ten fellow constituents. In practice, the party usually ensures that only its endorsed candidates make it to the shortlist. Ordinary Chinese often refer to the “people’s congresses”, as the legislatures are called, as mere ornamental “flower vases”.

So a flurry of internet-fuelled enthusiasm for such polls has attracted considerable attention, including in some state-owned media (to the disquiet of propaganda officials, say Chinese journalists). Li Fan of the World and China Institute in Beijing, thinks that more than 100 people have declared themselves as candidates in recent weeks for elections for people’s congresses that are due to be held around the country in the coming months. They have mustered support using microblogging tools such as Sina Weibo, a hugely popular Twitter-like service.

Even a hint of spontaneity in legislative elections can make the party squirm. In 1980 the first experiment with such polls led to heated campaigns on campuses. Officials intervened to block outspoken candidates from winning seats. Six years later, attempts to exclude independent candidates from local elections prompted student protests. The crackdown on the Tiananmen Square unrest in 1989 all but ended activists’ efforts at the ballots until 2003, when a slightly more liberal atmosphere encouraged dozens from the newly emerging middle classes to run. But when elections were held three years later, the party stifled media coverage.

Now, despite a sweeping crackdown on dissent this year involving the arrest of dozens of activists, the party is finding it harder to impose silence. A surge in online social networking has enabled citizens to connect instantly with vast numbers of like-minded people. Intellectuals and journalists with high profiles online are among those who have declared their candidacies. Li Chengpeng, an author and social critic in Sichuan province, has more than 3m followers of his Sina Weibo account. In a message posted on June 15th Mr Li wrote that a policeman had said he would vote for him, with many fellow officers wanting to follow suit.

So will they start getting more active in disqualifying candidates? Will they somehow intimidate voters on election day, or just get really creative when they start counting ballots? Or will they actually allow independent candidates into these low reaches of the government, understanding the trend that’ll start? We’ll have more as it happens.

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“Chinese activists harness Twitter to campaign in elections”

Another one about the grassroots elections from the Telegraph:

The rush of candidates this year was sparked in part by an online controversy over government suppression of the candidature of a laid-off steelworker in the southern city of Xinyu who was placed under house arrest for “disturbing social order” during the election period.

Another factory worker who has announced his intention to stand told The Telegraph that he had faced similar “dirty tricks” including giving him only six hours notice to find his 10 supporters and submit his application.

“I’m insisting on being allowed to stand for election because it is my constitutional right,” said Wang Zhongxiang, a 50-year-old foreman at a state-owned power company in the northeastern port city of Tianjin.

Mr Wang, whose blog was shut down by internet censors in 2007, said that unofficial government pressure was actually increasing against independent candidates.

It remains unclear how forcefully China’s government will tackle the small but vocal wave of independent candidates who only represent a tiny minority of two million representatives “elected” to provincial and district assemblies between now and the end of 2012.

Mr Yao, who was a signatory of the Charter 08 pro-democracy petition whose author Liu Xiaobo was jailed for 11 years, said he had received a visit from the Guobao, China’s secret police, who had warned him not to campaign illegally, but admitted his constitutional right to stand.

“I think the Party is not accustomed to think about people wanting to contribute constructively. They assume the intent and motive of the people is hostile, not that people want to embrace gradual reform,” he said.

“But reform is the only solution, whether the Party likes it or not. The Party has two choices: to reform step-by-step through progressive reforms or face a violent revolution. There really is no ‘third way’.”

I suspect that over the right timeframe Mr. Yao is correct. That’s why this new generation of leadership is going to be so vital: if they aren’t willing or able to implement political reform, I would be surprised if China doesn’t end up in very real trouble over the next decade.

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“Changing China: one vote, one person”

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.

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“Independent Candidates = True Nationalists”

This year a number of lower positions in the government have been opened to direct elections by independent candidates.  Guess how that’s going?  As China Elections and Governance informs us…  not great:

In an interview published on the Asia Weekly website on April 30, Li Fan, Director and Researcher at Beijing’s World and China Institute, estimated that tens of thousands of independent candidates and self-nominated candidates may spring up in this election. If Li is right, this election could be a game-changing experience for the Chinese people. It makes you wonder, how would the Chinese government react toward this phenomenon? Well, they already did.

Liu Ping, a 47-year-old retired worker from Xinyu, Jiangxi province, ran as an independent candidate in early May. (Jiangxi held the election early as a testing site for the whole nation.) Her experience with the local government has been a constant struggle. Throughout the three weeks of her campaign, Liu was closely monitored, harassed, and unlawfully detained by local police. The local authorities questioned her intentions for running and framed her as an ally of hostile domestic and foreign political forces. Liu suddenly became the ‘Enemy of the State’; her home was searched, her public speaking sessions interrupted and her campaign banners and flyers confiscated. Authorities went as far as to cut electricity at her home to prevent her from contacting the outside world. On May 19, local election authorities dropped Liu as an official candidate, stating that Liu did not meet the requirement of 10 supporters, even though Liu had more than 30,000 followers online. Currently, Liu continues to post her experiences on Weibo and has pledged to fight till the end. (More about Liu Ping’s experience)

It is reassuring to see that the mistreatment of Liu Ping did not scare away new candidates; all of the above 44 candidates mentioned above signed up to run after monitoring Liu’s case. Some had publicly supported Liu from the very beginning and claimed Liu’s action inspired them to run in this election. Liu has received the title “Rosa Parks of China” by bloggers.

It’s a brave thing to even try to run.  We’ll see what the fallout is as the elections go on.

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