Basic Voting Rights Still Repressed in China
Basic Voting Rights Still Repressed in China

Under the totalitarian system of the communist regime, China's political structure works as a pyramid. Most of its power is held in the hands of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, and the Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Under this system, less and less power is then given to committees at provincial, city, county and township levels, which serve as the CCP's political power at the grassroots level. Arriving at the county and township levels, very little power is held in the hands of officials. Despite this, the Chinese authorities continue to clench it firmly within their grasp.

Vice Chairman of the NPC Denounced Direct Elections at County-Township Level

On July 1, elections for county-township People's Congress delegates started in 2800 counties and 35,400 towns, and will run through to 31 December 2007. More than 900 million people are supposed to vote. Two million delegates are to be directly elected or re-elected to office.

There is widespread participation from citizens and activists but the Chinese authorities are keeping tight control over the nomination process. Independent candidates are finding their path blocked by local officials who deliberately flout the election law, so that few independents can be elected.

Direct elections were introduced in China in 1978 but applied in townships and counties only in 1998 after many adjustments to copy with the national situation.

In December 1998, the first direct election at the township level took place in Buyun Township, Suining City, Sichuan Province. By law, township heads are appointed by local CCP officials, and such direct appointments thus stunned observers within China and overseas.

Motivated by the removal of the previous township leader in 1997 on charges of mismanagement and corruption and inspired by nationwide practices of village direct elections, Buyun local officials—apparently lacking formal approval from Beijing authority, but with the tacit support of higher officials at the provincial and national levels— decided to make a political experiment with democracy. They organized an election which included multi-candidate campaigning, the use of secret ballots and private voting booths, and transparent vote tabulation.

Initially, the Chinese regime's official newspaper Legal Daily, condemned the election as “illegal” and “a violation of the Constitution.” However, on February 26, 1999 (after four weeks of a government-mandated black out on news coverage of the election) a 15-minute report on the Buyun election experiment was aired on national TV. A researcher from the Legislative Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) was quoted as saying, “though the election did not abide by the current regulations and political system, it reflected a positive direction of rural democracy.” According to election organizers, the NPC's comments created enough ambiguity to allow other townships to consider direct election experimentation.

This past August, Sheng Huaren, the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC, said it is against the law to allow people to cast votes directly to elect their county and township chiefs. He also added that direct elections for county-township to the People's Congress would never be allowed in future. Sheng instructed local officials to carefully screen candidates to ensure they are not involved in “illegal activities and cults.” Local cadres should organize activities where candidates could introduce themselves to voters so they would not build their own groups to promote themselves.

The local People's Congress is responsible for selecting delegates to a provincial assembly, which in turn sends delegates to the National People's Congress, the supreme legislature that meets annually. Nevertheless, the CCP still does not allow any civic power to be involved in its local People's Congress in order to prevent any jangling noise.

Candidates of Pan-Blue Alliance Suppressed

Compared with previous years, the number of independent candidates running for the positions of the People's Congress at the county and township levels has increased. This positive result bears a direct relationship to human rights defenders' activities, and people's struggle for, and awareness of democracy. News published on the Internet revealed that there would be 500 independent candidates, of which those belonging to the Pan-Blue Alliance have drawn significant public attention.

The Pan-Blue Alliance in mainland China, also known as the China Pan-Blue Alliance, is an online group formed after the Taiwanese politicians, Lien Chan, former chair of the Kuomingtang Party (KMT), and James Soong, chair of the People First Party (PFP), visited China in 2005. The Pan-Blue Alliance members believed in the ideology of Sun Yat-sen's Three People's Principles, and uphold the one-China unification policy. Because the KMT and the PFP in Taiwan dare not recognize those in the group as party members, they refer to themselves as KMT spiritual members.

The event embarrassed both the KMT and the CCP. At present, because the CCP adopts an ostensible policy to maintain harmonious relations with Taiwan, the KMT and the PFP are intimately close to the CCP and thus reluctant to develop a party organization in mainland China lest they should face direct opposition from the CCP. Conversely, since the CCP emphasizes the need for peaceful reunification with the KMT, the CCP hesitates to crack down on the group which has displayed the KMT party flag in China. Thus, the Pan-Blue Alliance is temporarily given room for existence and activities.

Previously, the Pan-Blue Alliance had initiated their Net activities in memory of the September 18 Incident [1]. Recently, they have been participating in the county-township elections for delegates for the People's Congress. Based on the online information released by the Pan-Blue Alliance, their electoral campaign field is divided into midsouth China, southwest China, north China, and east China, with 102 candidates. But only 20 candidates have their names made public, with five in central China, seven in southwest China, five in north China, and three in east China. They said that all candidates shoulder responsibility for their own campaign activities and budget collection.

During the past several months, the Chinese authorities have targeted independent candidates seeking election in many parts of the country. Some candidates have been beaten, detained for questioning, threatened, or pressured by their employees to withdraw. Wen Yan (nickname Sun Buer), a leader of the Pan-Blue Alliance, had campaigned as a candidate for the local People's Congress in Jianghan District of Wuhan City, Hubei Province. Wearing an election T-shirt printed with the image of Sun Yat-sen and campaign slogans, Sun Buer and his campaign assistants, while distributing leaflets to voters, had their leaflets snatched away on the spot. Sun was then beaten, and had no choice but to drop out of the election.

Meanwhile, Ni Jiangfeng, also an independent candidate in Wuhan, was attacked as well. In addition, Zhang Qi, a member of the Pan-Blue Alliance in Chongqing City, Sichuan Province, was accused of illegal gathering on June 22 and was detained for 14 days. Xiong Jiahu, another member of the Pen-Blue Alliance in Chongqing, was interrogated at a police station. Zuo Xiaohuan, a teacher in Leshan Normal University in Sichuan, was discharged from employment. Hu Yutao, teacher of Jiangsu University of Science and Technology, was threatened with dismissal, and his personal computer was confiscated. Zhang Zilin in Changsha City was questioned by the National Security officers. Cai Aimin, another Pen-Blue Alliance member in Zhengzhou City, Henan Province was taken away by the National Security Guards when distributing leaflets; his whereabouts are still unknown. Lu Fujian in company with Cai Aimin was also taken away.

Hu Jintao's Autocratic Democracy

Under Hu Jintao's leadership, the Chinese communist regime's grip on democracy has been much tighter than ever before. Currently the regime openly stresses its opposition to election campaigning, as it regards election campaigning, home visiting and vote soliciting as elements of Western democracy, rather than socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics. Then what is socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics? As a matter of fact, it refers to the system in which all candidates are appointed by the Chinese authorities. Even if there are candidates nominated by merely ten people, they are subjected to the local election committee's review, discussion and consultation in order to become qualified candidates. Given that all the members on the committee are themselves officials, how can it be regarded as democracy?

To deal with disobedient independent candidates, autocrats openly use police forces to arrest them on charges of illegal assembly and illegal dissemination of campaign materials. In addition, some more despicable approaches are employed to deter them from campaigning, such as intimidating their employers and landlords to make them lose their jobs and residences, and harassing their family members, campaign assistants and the general public who receive campaign flyers from them. This is done to isolate the candidates and trap them in a difficult situation. On occasion, authorities have even resorted to violent means or torturous exercise to severely punish the candidates physically.

Modern China is a society that has laws, but is not ruled by law. Instead, the laws are used simply for punishing its people. Its entire means of governance rests on the use of police and hoodlums. In this situation, the price that independent candidates have to pay is high, while the odds of being elected are slim.

China is a vast land with a population of over 1.3 billion; however, it won't even allow a few dozen or a hundred plus, self-recommended candidates to run for mere county or township delegates. While attending the recent China-Europe Summit, Hu Jintao said, “China is a large country with a vast population, weak economic foundation and unbalanced development in different regions. The conditions are not yet ripe for conducting direct elections at a higher level of government. Democracy and direct election in particular, should develop in an orderly way in keeping with the particular condition of a country.” In reality, people are not talking about high-level elections. What people are currently concerned about is nothing more than grassroots elections. These are elections at the absolute lowest level and yet people are still given no freedom.

The Chinese regime always attributes its avoidance of democracy to its spacious land area, large population, low literacy rate, and its low-level economic development. However, these factors are not ample reasons for passing off democracy. Take India for instance. It is the second largest country in terms of population, but it has implemented democracy for 17 years. Regarding low literacy rate and economic development, Hong Kong is one of the international financial centers and its literacy rate is not low, so it is more than qualified to implement democracy. Nonetheless, it is simply because of the Chinese leadership's resistance that Hong Kong still does not allow complete voting rights. Moreover, the level of economic and cultural development in China's major cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing, is not lower than that of Calcutta and New Dehli. So the regime's excuse for preventing voting rights really doesn't hold up.

Among the world's 192 nations, over 120 have been implementing democracy. China is currently the only leading country that hasn't taken this step. As Wen Jiabao has conceded, democracy is a common achievement created by human beings and a common value pursued by people. So please loosen your iron fist. Let the Chinese people have a true opportunity for direct elections and a voice in the selection of their own leaders. The Chinese people deserve this freedom.

Excerpt from the November 2006 issue of the Open Magazine at http://www.open.com.hk/

[1] The September 18 Incident happened on September 18, 1931, in southern Manchuria when a section of a railroad, owned by Japan's South Manchuria Railway, near Mukden (today's Shenyang) was blown up by Japanese junior officers. Japan's military accused Chinese dissidents of the act, thus providing an excuse for the Japanese annexation of China. It is referred to by the Chinese as the National Humiliation Day.

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