Chinese in­de­pen­dents to chal­lenge Com­mu­nists in 2012

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY MICHELLE PHILLIPS

BEI­JING | China’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party will face a chal­lenge in 2012 from a record num­ber of in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates run­ning in lo­cal elec­tions with­out the par ty’s di­rect ap­proval.

In the past few months, more than 100 Chinese cit­i­zens have in­for­mally an­nounced their can­di­da­cies for lo­cal com­mit­tee seats through the mi­croblog site Weibo, the Chinese equiv­a­lent of Twit­ter.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence with me­dia lets me make use of all dif­fer­ent means,” said Yao Bo, a news­pa­per colum­nist and well-known In­ter­net com­men­ta­tor who is run­ning as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date in Bei­jing’s Chang­ping district.

“I know a lot of peo­ple, and I can tell a lot of peo­ple. [The gov­ern­ment] can try to si­lence me, but then the coun­try will know,” Mr. Yao, bet­ter known in China by his blog name Wuyue­san­ren, told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The move­ment has been so strong that the state-run Xin­hua News Agency de­clared at the be­gin­ning of June that “in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates” are not rec­og­nized by Chinese law. It added that all can­di­dates must clear a se­ries of pro­ce­dures to run for of­fice.

How­ever, an­a­lysts say the dec­la­ra­tion did not ban all in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates from of­fice. It cer­tainly has not de­terred in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates from con­tin­u­ing their cam­paigns on Weibo, in some cases garner­ing thou­sands of fol­low­ers.

Com­mu­nist Par ty leader Deng Xiaop­ing in­tro­duced grass-roots elec­tions in 1978 as an ex­per­i­ment in di­rect democ­racy.

Held at least ev­ery five years, the elec­tions con­tinue to be the only di­rect link be­tween the Chinese peo­ple and their gov­ern­ment.

The next round will be held in var ious distr icts from July through De­cem­ber next year.

The Chinese Con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees all cit­i­zens 18 or older the right to vote and run in the county-and town­shiplevel elec­tions.

In prac­tice, how­ever, the process is tightly con­trolled by the Com­mu­nist Party. Most of the time, only party-ap­proved can­di­dates get onto the bal­lots.

“The big­gest ob­sta­cle is the pro­ce­dure,” said Mr. Yao. “If you don’t have con­fir­ma­tion, it’s easy for the gov­ern­ment to [. . . ] just bump off the ones they don’t like [from the bal­lots].”

The con­fir­ma­tion process is com­pli­cated, but it ba­si­cally re­quires po­ten­tial can­di­dates to get the sup­port of at least 10 qual­i­fied vot­ers. How­ever, the gov­ern­ment can rule can­di­dates or any of their sup­port­ers un­qual­i­fied and refuse to put them on the bal­lot.

In the past, in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates have met the pro­ce­dural re­quire­ments and won seats in lo­cal gov­ern­ments. How­ever, those can­di­dates have had dif­fi­culty af­ter be­ing elected.

One in­de­pen­dent, Yao Lifa, won a lo­cal elec­tion in 1998, but failed to win elec­tion again in 2003. He said he has been ha-

“My ex­pe­ri­ence with me­dia lets me make use of all dif­fer­ent means,” said Yao Bo, a news­pa­per colum­nist and well-known In­ter­net com­men­ta­tor who is run­ning as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date in Bei­jing’s Chang­ping district. “I know a lot of peo­ple, and I can tell a lot of peo­ple. [The gov­ern­ment] can try to si­lence me, but then the coun­try will know,” Mr. Yao, bet­ter known in China by his blog name Wuyue­san­ren, told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

rassed by authoritie­s ever since.

Liu Ping, a laid-off worker from Jiangxi prov­ince cam­paign­ing for re­tire­ment rights, an­nounced her can­di­dacy as an in­de­pen­dent on Weibo and soon had more than 30,000 fol­low­ers. By May, the lo­cal com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment had branded her an en­emy of the state, pre­vented her from cam­paign­ing in pub­lic, de­tained her and searched her house.

Al­though the gov­ern­ment of­fi­cially re­moved her from the can­di­date list, Liu Ping con­tin­ues to post on Weibo, say­ing she will “fight till the end.”

How­ever, not all Chinese po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts view in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates as a threat.

Wang Zhanyang, a pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tral In­sti­tute of So­cial­ism, urged Chinese authoritie­s to treat in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates “as fac­tors pro­mot­ing so­cial sta­bil­ity.”

“As a mat­ter of fact, a so­ci­ety be­comes sta­ble only when it grows duly ac­tive and vi­brant,” Mr. Wang wrote this month in the China-U.S. Fo­cus mag­a­zine, pub­lished by the pri­vate Chi­naUnited States Ex­change Foun­da­tion in Hong Kong.

Un­de­terred by past fail­ures, in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates have run their cam­paigns pri­mar­ily by us­ing so­cial me­dia, which gets out mes­sages ef­fec­tively but makes them hard to track.

Mr. Yao said that de­spite the right guar­an­teed by the con­sti­tu­tion, most Chinese cit­i­zens have never seen a bal­lot be­cause the gov­ern­ment has never told them they could vote.

He said he hopes his cam­paign will get the word out to ev­ery­body.

“The rights are theirs,” he said, “and no one can take them.”

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