China Sees Surge of Independent Candidates

The Washington Post reports on the group of people who are using social media to launch independent campaigns for local office:

The local congresses — the lowest rung in China’s government structure, equivalent to neighborhood commissions — are relatively powerless bodies in the complex system that the party maintains as a formal display of grass-roots participation. Until now, they have been filled almost entirely with candidates from the party, or people endorsed by it.

But the unprecedented number of candidates stepping forward without the party’s backing for elections that begin this fall marks a potential watershed in China’s political evolution, testing the leadership’s professed commitment to allowing democracy to develop from the bottom up.

[...] A few candidates who were not affiliated with the Communist Party have run in past elections for local congresses, but they received virtually no media coverage and few votes. This time around, however, the independent candidates — academics, students, journalists, bloggers, lawyers and farmers — are attracting widespread publicity and mounting serious campaigns, using social media and live Internet broadcasts.

The Communist Party seems to be grappling to find a coherent response. “Some are cheering from the sidelines,” said Elizabeth Economy, a China expert with the Council on Foreign Relations. “There are certainly others who view this as very threatening.”

The wide swath of candidates running, Economy said, “shows the breadth of interest in real reform.” But on the question of whether the party will allow the independents to prevail, or whether they could affect the system from inside if they did, she and other analysts sounded far more cautious.

CDT has translated a number of statements by and articles about the independent candidates, including the microblog posts of candidate Yu Ren in Lanzhou, who was one of the few to make it to the preliminary round and be recognized as an official candidate for election.

September 12, 2011 9:54 PM
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