Human Rights Activists Run In Local Elections in China

By Jiang He, Voice of America
August 26, 2006 12:00 am Last Updated: August 26, 2006 12:00 am

China is holding elections for people's representatives at the county and township levels. The difference this time is that the usual practice of the communist government recommending candidates has been challenged, and some independent candidates and human rights activists are actively running for elections. However, analysts say these independent candidates, instead of receiving election funds, have been suppressed.

According to the regulations of the Standing Committee of the Tenth People's Congress of China, the election season for town and county representatives in mainland China started on July 1, 2006 and will end on Dec. 31, 2007.

Prominent Human Rights Activists Run in Elections

According to a report in Asia Weekly , one distinction of the ongoing campaigns is that the authority of local governments to nominate and control candidates has been challenged, and a group of rights advocates who have acted for years through unofficial channels as the voice of the people, have stepped forward and are actively involved in elections. This independent group now wants to speak for the people on a formal platform—China's parliament.

Lu Banglie, who was detained by authorities for getting involved in human rights advocacy in Taishi Village, Fanyu City, Guangdong Province; Zou Tao of Shenzhen City, who once led a campaign to boycott high real estate prices; and college teacher Xu Zhiyong of Beijing University of Postal Communication, who was picked as one of the Men of the Year 2005 by Asia Weekly , have either signed up to run or expressed an intention to run in the elections.

Paving the Way for a 'New and Broader Path?'

Mr. Hu Ping, editor-in-chief of Beijing Spring and a famous political commentator, said in an interview, “I think it's quite significant that so many human rights advocates stepped forward to participate in local elections. Although the people's representative at the county and township levels is a low-ranking position and the role he can play is limited, too, it is still a meaningful step forward. If everyone sticks to this practice, it may lead to a new and broader path.”

Some Candidates Are Warned and Fired by Authorities

But the article in Asia Weekly pointed out that the challenges these independent candidates face do not come from constituents; rather, they come from the local governments and communist organizations. These candidates do not have the backing of the governments or communist organizations, so they have no access to resources from election funds, and some of them have received warnings from their employers or have even been fired from their government jobs. Mr. Hu Ping, however, holds that this is something that should be expected.

“That is because the authorities find it hard to accuse you of anything simply on account of your participation in elections as an independent candidate,” Mr. Hu explained. “When they can't do anything about it in the open, they resort to tricks in the dark. Besides, they have full control over the nominations and election resources, so independent candidates face far more daunting challenges. As a result of the obstacles authorities have placed in the way of independent candidates, many people, mainly voters, waver and give up hope.”

Few Independent Candidates

Approximately 500 non-government-sponsored candidates have signed up for elections. Prominent human rights activist Guo Feixiong believes there are too few independent candidates in view of the one billion voters in China. “Moreover, most of these candidates, non-aligned, have not associated themselves closely with intellectuals and civil groups, so they don't have much chance of winning the elections,” Guo said.

“The small number of independent candidates shows the result of tight control and manipulation by the government over the elections,” Mr. Hu Ping commented. “In spite of that, their participation is commendable.

“As everyone knows, the elections are manipulated by the authorities. Besides, local elections such as these can play a very limited political role. That is why most people are callous and indifferent toward them. They are not going to take them too seriously. An overall favorable climate is lacking. Under these circumstances, not many people will step forward.”