After Voting, Can Wukan Claim Victory?

After electing a new village chief and one deputy on Saturday, voters in Wukan went back to the polls on Sunday to vote in run-off contests to choose a second deputy and fill the four remaining seats on a newly-created village committee. From Xinhua News:

On Sunday, Hong Ruichao was elected as deputy chief and the other four village committee members elected were Zhuang Liehong, Zhang Jiancheng, Sun Wenliang and Chen Suzhuan, the election committee announced on Sunday night.

The fishing village has 8,363 registered voters, and 6,185 votes were collected on Sunday, said Hong Tianbin, director of the election committee.

The results were valid as more than half of the village’s registered voters cast their votes and each candidate secured no less than one-third of all the votes, said Hong.

Voting began at noon on Sunday at a village school and the vote calculation lasted until 8 p.m.

Beijing-based reporter and photographer Jordan Pouille posted a series of election-day photos from Wukan, which includes the above photo, showing images from the polling station and the surrounding areas of the small fishing village. The New York times also published a slideshow. In the end, the seats on the village committee were filled by activists, including recently-installed party head and now village committee chief Lin Zuluan, as well as newly-elected deputy chairman Yang Semao, who both helped to lead the months-long protests against corrupt local officials and intimidating security forces and won concessions from provincial party leaders.

The peaceful weekend vote offers a potential new approach for Beijing in dealing with social unrest and validates the crisis-management approach of Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang, according to The Wall Street Journal, though it remains to be seen how Wukan’s new committee will operate or or whether the central government will adopt a similar approach anywhere else:

Significant questions remain unanswered about Wukan, including how much autonomy Mr. Lin and other newly elected leaders have to govern. Additionally, it remains to be seen whether the government’s restrained response in the case of Wukan will be replicated elsewhere in China, where land disputes have emerged as one of the most severe threats to the Communist Party’s grip on power.

Land disputes account for 65% of all mass protests in China, according to Yu Jianrong, an expert on rural issues at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“I prefer not to use the world ‘success,’ ” said a villager of the weekend elections, who asked only to be identified by his surname, Zhang. “This is just the very first step. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Wang Yang downplayed the impact of the elections when questioned by reporters outside a meeting of the Guangdong delegation at the National People’s Congress. The New York Times adds that the triumph of Wukan may have been oversold:

Some observers of China’s politics say they believe that Wukan is not a template for change, but a feel-good moment in a sophisticated system that handles citizen unrest on a case-by-case basis — iron fist here, velvet glove there.

As in Wukan, party leaders in Dalian, in northern China, placated thousands of environmental protesters in August by promising to shutter a chemical factory said to be hazardous. Yet this month in Zhejiang Province, north of Guangdong, officials suppressed a Wukan-style land protest in Panhe by systematically rounding up protest leaders and sealing their village off from journalists.

“It’s the triumph of hope over experience,” Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing scholar of Chinese domestic politics, said of speculation that Wukan could become a national model. “Reform in China doesn’t start in places like Wukan. It starts at the top and soaks downward.

“Wukan is an attractive instance of what’s possible. But it’s not even probable.”

NPR’s Louisa Lim reports that Voting is Victory” for villagers in Wukan, but the events there have not yet translated into breakthroughs for similarly aggrieved masses elsewhere in China:

As the ballots were counted in Wukan, a new election remained a fantasy just down the road in Longtou, also known as Longguang. Here, too, villagers have been protesting against land seizures for years. But so far, the events in Wukan haven’t helped them.

“Now we don’t think Wukan will influence us that much,” says one villager, who asked for his name not to be used. “The government has dealt with Wukan, but our situation is still messy, and they’re not dealing with us.”

Another resident makes it clear that the lesson they have learned from Wukan is strength in numbers, saying if the government doesn’t pay attention, they’ll form a coalition of seven or eight villages.

“We’re talking about it now. Then we’d be tens of thousands of people.”