China Moves to Stop Grass-Roots Candidacies (Updated)

The Chinese government, through its official media, has put limits on moves by activists and others who have declared their independent candidacies for local elections, though it may not yet signal an end to the movement. From the New York Times:
[One person, one vote. Reform China]

The decision, published Wednesday in by the Xinhua news agency and on Thursday in the People’s Daily, a Communist Party newspaper, appeared to some to reflect official concern about the Communist Party’s grip on the election process in a society whose members are increasingly linked by the Internet. Dozens of people recently have signaled on microblogs that they intended to mount their own campaigns for seats in local versions of the National People’s Congress, China’s quasi legislature.

Some candidates suggested, however, that the ruling did little to formally outlaw grass-roots campaigns by candidates who lack the party’s official blessing.

“Over all, I think the official response is a little more positive than negative,” said Xu Zhiyong, a prominent civil rights lawyer elected in 2003 to the Haidian District People’s Congress as an upstart candidate. “Legally, there’s nothing wrong with what was said.” Haidian is in central Beijing.

At the same time, citizens still have a right to proclaim themselves “independent candidates,” Mr. Xu maintained, “just as they have a right to choose their own names.”

The local legislatures choose members every five years in elections that the government hails as an exercise in grass-roots democracy. Xinhua reports that up to 900 million voters would choose two million legislators for offices that roughly correspond to American city councils.

From the Xinhua article about the legality of the nominations:

China said Wednesday that there is no such a thing as an “independent candidate,” as it’s not recognized by law, amid ongoing elections starting this year of lawmakers at the county and township legislatures.

The Electoral Law stipulates that candidates for lawmakers at the county- and township- levels should be first nominated as “deputy candidate” and then confirmed as “official deputy candidate” in due legal procedures, said an official of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature.

The official, head of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, made the remarks when asked about campaign announcements by “independent candidates” to run for deputies to the grassroots people’s congresses. These announcements were made on the web over the past few weeks.

For extensive background on the self-declared candidates and the process they are undertaking, please see this post from China Elections and Governance.

Read more about this online movement via CDT.

Update: The Diplomat profiles one of the independents, writer Li Chengpeng:

A native of the city of Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, and former journalist, Li, nicknamed ‘Li Big Eyes,’ is a gutsy and provocative writer and used to conspicuously challenging authority, a theme that’s run through his career. When we spoke to him, he had just published a controversial and best-selling novel, Li Kele Protests Demolitions, about the touchy issue of forced demolitions. ‘I’m not scared,’ he told us, ‘There are some things you have to face as a man.’

He first came to prominence – and first aroused the suspicions of the Chinese authorities – as a sports journalist covering soccer. A series of articles culminating in a 2005 book exposing the corrupt inner workings of the Chinese football world aroused anger and, he says, personal threats to his family. By 2009, he told us, he regularly received anonymous text messages saying things like ‘You’d better watch your family,’ and at one point was so scared of the police that he spent several weeks checking into a new hotel room every night using names and ID cards borrowed from friends.

Li became a celebrity blogger in the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which he witnessed first-hand in Chengdu. Millions of people read his story about a group of elementary school teachers guiding their class across the mountains from a ruined school to safety. In it, he criticized local officials and construction companies for using shoddy materials in schools, an issue that became a major scandal in China. As his profile rose, the controversial nature of his exposes made it difficult to hold a single job for long. Eventually, he left journalism entirely and moved back to Chengdu, saying that it was easier to tell the truth in fiction.

‘There are two types of writer in China,’ Li said. ‘One is like the journalists at the People’s Daily, and one is like me. At People’s Daily, every disaster is a fairy tale with a happy ending.’

June 9, 2011 12:06 PM
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