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China: Update on the Independent Candidate Campaigns

The spokesperson for the Commission on Legislative Affairs of the National People’s Congress stated [zh] on June 8 2011 that no legal basis exists for independent candidacy in grassroots people's congress elections.

To be a candidate in grassroots representative elections, he said, one has to first be endorsed by a political party or a people's organization in order to become an “independent candidate”. The statement is a blow to the grassroots “independent candidate” movement triggered by Liu Ping's candidacy announced in May 2011.

A Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s internal newspaper, Study Times [zh], however, then published a commentary which argued that “independent candidacy” is legal as “the right to be nominated” is protected by the Chinese Constitution. It looked at speculation that an internal conflict exists between top leaders of the CCP and in government over the opening up of grassroots democracy.

The General Election of grassroots representatives for the People's Congress at both the county and township level is taking place from now until the end of 2012. More than two million people's representatives will be elected in the two elections, affecting more than 2,000 county level governments and more than 30,000 township level governments. Chinese-language news site Boxun quotes a source [zh] who states that there were more than 127 registered independent candidates by June 7, 2011.

Despite the fact that the number of independent candidates is tiny in comparison to the total of more than 2 million contested seats, the authorities have been hard-handed in suppressing spontaneous participation in the grassroots elections.

Cao Tian, a real estate businessman, author and former 1989 political prisoner, has announced in his blog that he will run for mayor of Zhengzhou. Soon after his announcement was made, he was threatened by a local official that “the first bird that takes wing is the first bird to get shot”.

China Digital Times has translated his post:

Official: You’re going to run into serious problems if you try to pull this one off. Can you guarantee that your company, or your family have not made any mistakes?! Pretty soon you’re going to find out just how many eyes Ma Wang Ye [Note: a Taoist dieity that has three eyes. Here it refers to the CCP] has!

Cao: I learned twenty years ago just how many eyes Ma Wang Ye has. I know even more about Yan Wang’s search for minions. But there is one thing that I still want. It’s what the Mafei county chief said in the movie “ Let the Bullets Fly.” He said that his government was there in Echeng to ensure three things: fairness, fairness and f**king fairness.

Official: You want fairness do you? That’s the same as saying you want to be in handcuffs! Didn’t you watch the news yesterday? The Commission on Legislative Affairs of the National People’s Congress has already said that you so-called independent candidates lack a legal ground [for running for office]. The subtext is that you guys are causing trouble for the government so the laws aren’t going to be used to protect you.

[…]

Official: What you say might make sense, but the reality is quite different. The first bird that takes wing is the first bird to get shot. You, yourself are someone with status; there is no need for you to be the martyr. Do you think history will stop progressing without you taking the lead?

Beijing Human Rights Activist and former independent people's congress representative to Beijing, Xu Zhiyong, has also confirmed [zh] the crackdown on independent candidates, via his Twitter on June 18:

针对独立候选人的打压开始了。昨天被带走除了不准教育平等征集签名,另外就是不准推动人大选举,我说,如果连这么基层的民主都要假到底,都不给人民任何践行宪法权利的机会,你们将是历史的垃圾.

The repression against independent candidates has started. Yesterday I was taken away because of the signature campaign for equal education opportunity. They also told me not to campaign for the people congress election. I answered that if they decide to take away the constitutional rights of people to take part in grassroots level elections, they will become the trash one reads of in history books.

A number of the high-profile independent candidates have been subjected to political harassment. Cao Tian, for one, was forced to leave Zhengzhou a week after he announced his intention to compete for the mayor.

Sina Weibo user Heaven blesses China A commented [zh] on June 17:

民间参选市长第一人曹天在刚刚宣布参选郑州市市长一周后,即被当地多个部门关照。由公安、国土资源、税务组成调查组,对其所在公司及其个人进行全面调查。曹天被迫离开郑州,去向不明。微评:也许这也是其他独立参选人的下场,参选市长,没经过领导同意能行吗?我不说不让你选,我仅仅是查查你而已。

Cao Tian, the first person to run for city mayor, has been taken care of by a number of government departments one week after his announcement. The investigation team, formed by police, land and resources and tax departments, are examining all records related to his company and personal activities. Cao Tian was forced to leave Zhengzhou and now no one knows his whereabouts. In brief: This will probably happen to other independent candidates. Without the approval of leaders, one cannot run for mayor. They don't have to stop you from running, they just need to investigate you.

Independent candidate from Jiangxi, Li Sihua, was charged with signature forgery. The authority said that among the more than 200 signatures in Li's nomination form, 5 of them were forged. Although it takes only 20 signatures to qualify as a candidate, Li's candidacy has been voided as a result of the charge. Li explained [zh] the situation through his Weibo account:

6月17日省人大向市人大批转了我的申诉书,使市、区人大再也不能说是省人大认定我跨选区被推荐非法无效了。于是,市、区、街办、村委四级紧急行动,赶赴我的推荐人所在的西合村,采用种种手段给推荐人做笔录,证明我们的推荐存在冒名代签,涉嫌破坏选举罪。我刚去了村里,村民说只有亲属间的委托代签。

On June 17, the provincial level people's congress referred my case to the city level people's congress, but neither the city nor district level people's congress could say whether nomination by constituents across districts is illegal. Hence, the city, district, street and village level offices visited all the nominees in Si He village, asking them to have written record of their nomination and have used all kinds of means to “prove” that there were fake names in the nomination form, so as to accuse me of tampering with the election. I just came back from the village, the villagers said that some of them were entrusted to sign the nomination form on behalf of their direct siblings.

Weibo user wuxinkuaiyu reminded [zh] all independent candidates to protect themselves:

友情提示:独立候选人参选人大代表征集签名时,拍照、录音、摄像手段最好全都用上。

Friendly reminder: When collecting your signatures for the nomination, independent candidates should take photos and make audio or video recordings of the process.

In spite of all the political harassment, many netizens continue to step out and participate in the grassroots election. CHRD has been keeping track of the candidate list with the tag ‘grassroots election‘ [zh].

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