One of the forerunners in public opinion among the nearly 100 people [zh] running as independent candidates in local People's Congress elections across China so far this year, Shanghai businessman Xia Shang announced his decision today to withdraw his candidacy from the upcoming election in Shanghai's Jing'an district:
My original intent in standing in the People's Congress election was to abide by the constitution and fulfill my civic rights and duties within the framework of election law. However, since I first announced my candidacy, I have been surrounded by constant obstacles and setbacks. The series of recent horrible public incidents, however, has opened my eyes to the true situation and led me to lose all confidence in the current regime. I now feel a strong sense of shame at the thought of taking part in the upcoming election. To stand in the election would be do sully myself through association with the regime, and serve as affirmation and respect for it. This it does not deserve. As such, I hereby declare my withdrawal!
Prior to this, Xia was ‘visited’ by Ministry of State Security agents and had tax investigations launched into two companies he owns. While independent candidates from other areas have been effectively barred from running in their local elections, Xia seems to be the first candidate thus far to withdraw as a result of official pressure put on him by authorities.
Continuing from Xia Shang's sudden refusal to have any part in the current political system, his candidacy was among the many things social commentator Leung Man-tao touched upon in an interview [zh] with the ‘Civic Election Monitor’ blog earlier this month. When asked how far he expects these independent candidates to get in their attempts to get elected, Leung wound his response around some of the critical views of the upstart candidates held at China's center of power:
I think it's still hard to say, but I have noticed that there's been a wider variety of opinions in discussions regarding political system reform over the past few years. I think it was last year when Wu Bangguo
said that China would never try a system with separation of powers similar to that in the West. He said that ours is a system in which the power held by the executive, legislative and judicial branches together is far greater than a system headed by the National People's Congress
, and this is the fundamental system for China, the best system. Over the past few years I've also seen academics argue that it's the most perfect system in the world, or at least that it's the democratic system most compatible with national sentiment in China.
So, now everyone want in on the National People's Congress, what's that about? In absolutely no way is it any sort of challenge to the government, in fact quite the opposite. It's a recognition of the legitimacy of the current system, one in which nobody would seek to be elected if they didn't accept it, right? Why aren't these people rioting? People are standing in elections because they recognize the legitimacy of the government, or at least that of the system. From this perspective, standing in the elections is actually a confirmation to what Wu Bangguo said, that this is our country's fundamental system, and not a challenge to it. Also, based our laws, and my learned understanding of them, my experience is that it's very clear exactly what the system currently in place in our country thinks: “The People's National Congress is a system which can best represent the will of all people”. But the reason why this sort of system is able to represent the full will of the people is precisely in that it's one based on a sense of democracy, and direct elections. These are the words I've come across in my studies of progressive texts, the only question that remains, however, is that people now really believe that when they hear it. This is what is being said, and now here we are.
But what I find remarkable is the kind of reports I've seen in print recently, like in Global Times
—also one of the progressive texts I study—in editorials in which it mentions these “independent candidates”, but says that what they're really doing is challenging the government. It seems strange to me how, while our government is formed precisely through such democratic elections, when people come to take part in them, they're cast as challenging the government. Again, this government is a government formed through these the sorts of democratic elections, so how is it that when someone stands in them they become a challenge to the government? I can't understand this logic.
So I think that in considering all aspects, an election is a reasonable and legitimate affair. Of course I know that some higher-up officials and public figures will say that there is no current legal basis
for independent candidates to stand in elections, but after all my carefully thought-out wording, it still seems that the point certain people want to make is only that there isn't any “independence” to speak of in those seeking to stand in the elections. So let's just not call them “independent” candidates in the elections. One thing I keep hearing is that all People's Congress delegate candidates need is to be nominated by at least ten voters. So why don't we just add a long string of characters in front of the word candidate and become the world's most descriptive kind of election candidate? Who cares, as long as we don't use the term “independent candidate”? Anyway, instead of squabbling over semantics, I think what people need to do now is create a basic system of governance for the country that they recognize as legitimate, that they truly believe in, and then go and take part in it, or sustain it. As I see it, what the future political climate will need is to see the currently existing mechanisms operate more smoothly, and not some big system reboot or whatever.
Meanwhile, in the southern city of Guangzhou, Wan Qingtao, ‘independent’ candidate, former soldier and current events commentator for the Guangzhou Daily newspaper's website, smells trouble [zh] with the decision there to hold all People's Congress elections at every level in the city on a weekday in early September:
On July 21, after careful consideration, the Guangzhou municipal Party committee decided that all district, county and township-level elections are to be held on September 8. This will be the first time that Guangzhou holds all elections on a single day—so why, then, on a Thursday? I don't need to point out that Western countries hold their elections on Sundays, but even socialist countries like Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba hold their local legislative elections on Sundays too. I ask that the city's Party committee and People's Congress offer the public some sort of explanation. Holding the election on a Sunday will make it as convenient as possible for voters to come out and vote. This is the international practice. Even North Korea held its local parliamentary elections on July 24, a Sunday. This calls for the Guangdong province People's Congress to step up and offer an explanation as to why Guangzhou decided to hold a People's Congress general election on a Thursday, of all days. I ask that all Guangzhou media help and look into this, and that the relevant departments offer an appropriate explanation.