China's Boom in 'Citizen Candidates' Sparks Backlash

Tania Branigan of the Guardian reports on the group of citizens using social media to launch independent candidacies for local office, and the government’s response:

Li Fan, of the private thinktank the World and China Institute, estimates there are tens of thousands of “citizen candidates” this time.

“Firstly, people’s civic and rights awareness has been enhanced,” he said. “Secondly, the relationship between the state and government is worse than before. People dealing with issues like rights protection, layoffs and housing don’t have other methods … thirdly, Weibo [China's Twitter-like microblog service] plays an important role.

“In 2006 media were not allowed to report [on independent candidates]. This year there is social media, providing a platform for people to communicate thoughts, exchange ideas and support each other.”

Would-be representatives are posting messages on Weibo, uploading videos, even producing campaign T-shirts. Zheng and her friends have natty red sashes and a large banner that says: “Honoured to take part in the election for the people’s congress.”

But their zeal has been matched by official attempts to impede them. Despite Friday’s detentions, Beijing is considered one of the more tolerant areas. Authorities in other places have used technicalities to disqualify would-be candidates, have threatened nominators and have harassed those seeking to stand.

Read more about the independent candidacies, including “Independent Candidate Yu Nan’s Candidacy Revoked for No Reason,” via CDT.