Vot­ing in an elec­tion ‘with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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.”

Tight­en­ing con­trol

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. —

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