It will have to go down as one of the more improbable political contests in recent history: 47 year-old retired steel worker Liu Ping took on the full might of the Chinese state, running one of the first independent campaigns for election to the National People’s Congress.
In the end, of course, she wasn’t even allowed on the ballot. But her efforts earned the respect of thousands of ordinary people.
Officially, Liu has every right to run for a seat on China’s top legislative body.
“Citizens 18 years of age and older… have the right to vote and stand for election,” law professor Ji Yaping confirmed to the Southern Metropolis Daily.
But, in reality, most observers will tell you that those seats are appointed.
“Having lived for almost 50 years, I have never seen a ballot,” said candidate Liu. “But I have been paying taxes and fulfilling my obligations as a lawful citizen. This time, I am going to fight for my rights as a citizen.”
It’s not the first time Liu has stood up for her rights. The story goes that two years ago she was forced to retire early from her job at local mill, Xinyu Steel, because the firm wanted fewer full-time staff that were entitled to paid leave and overtime.
So Liu took the mill to court – and when that didn’t work out she went to Beijing to petition her case.
She ended up spending 10 days in police detention for her trouble, but instead of being discouraged, she upped the ante by announcing her run for office.
“I hope that by [running] I can get a chance to speak for ordinary people,” Liu told Southern Metropolis Daily, “I will focus on social security, pensions and peoples’ livelihoods.”
Had she been able to run (and her constituents able to vote), Liu thought she had a good chance of success. “I have a very solid and wide constituency,” she wrote on her weibo microblog. “If the Yushui District of Xinyu, Jiangxi elects people’s representatives strictly in accordance with the Election Law, it is highly probable that I win.”
And that’s not just her view – 97% of respondents to a Changjiang Daily opinion poll reportedly backed her too.
Her struggle also won the support of prominent social critic Yu Jianrong, as well as promises from at least 30 locals to recommend her nomination.
But the local government didn’t share their sentiments. Liu even claims one official told her: “You want to be an NPC deputy? You should go become a prostitute!”
When questioned by local media, officials claimed Liu’s nominations were invalid and that, in any case, she was ineligible. For good measure, it is then said she was detained at a Xinyu Steel-owned hotel for the duration of the election, which was held on Sunday.
Despite some dramatic economic reforms in recent decades, it seems, political change remains as far away as ever.
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