Voting in an election ‘with Chinese characteristics’
BEIJING: When Chinese voters go to the polls, it is only to pick local representatives to advise on mundane issues like rubbish collection and parking. But when Ye Jinghuan sought election in Beijing, she was treated like an enemy of the state.
Plainclothes officers tailed the 64year old retiree as she left her home on polling day Tuesday, and she faced constant harassment from police and government officials after announcing her run, she said. The nationwide contest for spots in local legislatures, held every five years, is the only direct election in the People’s Republic of China.
Authorities were eager to show off what they describe as democracy “with Chinese characteristics”, with officials ushering dozens of reporters into a polling station in Xingfu, in central Beijing. Voters filled out their pink ballot papers in front of officials, ignoring a screened-off area labeled “Secret Balloting Place”.
Chinese law states that anyone over 18, who has not been stripped of their political rights, can stand for election and vote. “Ethnicity, gender, party, residence, economic situation, there are no limits,” crowed Liu Xiancai, who heads the Xingfu election office. But Ye’s experience was different. Candidates must be backed by 10 people or nominated by their workplace to stand. But official election committees ultimately decide who gets on the ballot. “The government can’t let someone like me be a candidate,” Ye said. “I would express my own thoughts. When the people’s congress opens session, I would cast an opposition ballot.”
Ye’s platform was simple: better controls on traffic, more elder care facilities, and making it easier for constituents to contact their delegates. But her seemingly innocuous ideas provoked a strong reaction from local police, who closely monitored her behavior and prevented her meeting foreign media. The authorities’ response to Ye indicates how China is tightening controls on even anodyne political expression, said Yaxue Cao of Chinachange.org, a US-based website advocating for increased democracy.
A key meeting of top Communist leadership in October called for increased ideological discipline and warned ruling party members against criticizing the official line. In a pyramidal system, the elected local representatives choose municipal delegates, who choose provincial legislators, who in turn select members of the national parliamentwhich is widely expected to hand Communist party General Secretary Xi Jinping a second term as president in 2018. —