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China: Prominent ‘Independent Candidate’ Denounces Upcoming Elections

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:

本人参选人大的初衷是在遵守宪法和选举法前提下完成公民权利和义务。但自宣布参选以来,各种暗流和阻挠不断。近日发生的一系列恶性公共事件让我幡然醒悟,让我对这个政权彻底失望,对参选感到强烈的羞耻感。参选其实是与政权的同流合污,是对它的认同和致敬,它配不上。所以,我宣布退选!

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:

梁文道:我觉得这个还很难说,我注意这几年关于政治体制改革的讨论,各种说法都有。我记得好像是去年,吴邦国他曾经说,中国绝不会搞西方的三权分立,说我们集行政、立法、司法大权于一身的人民代表大会制度,是中国的根本制度,是最好的制度,我近几年也看到学者辩称这是世界上最完美的,或者至少是最符合中国国情的民主制度。

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.

OK,那现在大家去选人大,这是什么呢?这绝对不是在挑战这个制度,恰恰相反,他是在认同这个制度,他如果不认同这个制度,他是不来选的,对不对?他为什么不去搞暴乱?他来选就表示他认同你政府的合法性,至少认同这套制度的合法性他才来参选,所以从这个角度来看,这样的参选其实是在完善吴邦国所说的“我们国家的根本制度”,而不是在挑战它。而且根据我们的法律,根据我学习到的——我常常学习进步书籍,跟进步文献的——根据我的心得,我的体会是,我们国家的这套制度它是说得很清楚的,“人民代表大会是一个最能代表全民意志的制度”,而这样一种制度它之所以能代表全民的意志,恰恰是在于它在最基本处已经有一个民主精神了,有直接选举。这些字眼都是在我学习过的进步文献和书籍里面出现过的,那现在只不过是老百姓他真相信你这么说,你这么讲我们都信,然后我们就来了。

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.

可是我觉得很奇妙的是,我最近看报纸上的一些报道,比如说《环球时报》——这也是我学习的进步报纸之一——它的评论里面就提到,这些人讲“独立参选”其实是在挑战政府,我就觉得很奇怪,我们的政府恰恰是经过这么一个民主选举才形成的,怎么现在有人来选就变成挑战政府了呢?这个政府是经过这种民主选举才形成的政府,怎麼现在有人参选就变成挑战它了呢?我看不懂这个逻辑。

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.

所以我觉得从各方面看,现在这个选举都是一个很合理、很合法的事情,当然我也知道也有一些很重要的官员,有一些很重要的人物,他说这个独立参选目前是于法无据的,可是在我仔细斟酌这个文字之后我觉得他讲的意思其實只是沒有“独立参选”这回事,那我们就不叫“独立参选”嘛。我记得是一大段,说什么“经过选民联名推荐” (注:十人以上联名推荐代表候选人)——那我们就把那一大串字加到参选人前面,成为世界上名称最长的一种候选人算了。就不要叫“独立候选人”,无所谓嘛,这种文字的东西就不要管他,反正我觉得今天大家做的是一个肯定我们国家根本制度,认同国家根本制度,真心相信根本制度,然后乐于参加国家根本制度诞生,或者维续的。从这个角度,我觉得对于未来的政治生态,肯定只是让现有的机制更好地运作,而不是一个很大的改变或什么。

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:

7月21日,经广州市委研究同意,全市各区、县级市和镇的选举日安排在9月8日。广州将首次实行全市统一选举日——为什么放在星期四进行呢?咱不说欧美国家都在周日选举,就连越南、朝鲜、古巴这些社会主义国家都在周日举行地方议会选举。请广州市委、市人大就此问题给大家作出解释。周日投票选举,便于选民最大可能出来选举,这是国际惯例,甚至连朝鲜的地方人民会议代表选举也是7月24日(星期日)举行的。因此,对于广州市决定9月8日星期四举行地方人大代表换届选举一事,也请广东省人大出面做出解释。请广州各媒体帮助采访,请有关部门对此做出合理的解释。

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.

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