“Each radish has its pit,” runs a contemporary saying. It means that when it comes to getting a job or promotion, the candidate favoured by local powerbrokers is likely to prevail.
The saying comes to mind again when looking at the widespread enthusiasm among ordinary Chinese for the National People’s Congress elections this year. Across the country, hundreds of so-called ‘independent candidates’ have put themselves forward for seats (see WiC107 and 109 for earlier references to this phenomenon). They want to fix a range of ills such as homes lost to development, cronyism in distributing jobs, or the damage being wreaked by environmental pollution. Candidates have come from a wide variety of professions including lawyers, academics, journalists and IT workers.
In Beijing even a fashion model, Cheng Yuting, is standing, according to the Aboluowang.com website. Cheng, just 23, won an “Angel” award for volunteering at last year’s Asian Games in Guangzhou, and said she wanted to spread democracy, rule of law, and “give back to society”.
In fact, the candidatures represent the biggest grass roots democracy movement in years, Beijing University law professor Zhang Qianfan wrote on the 21ccom.net website.
This has all taken the government by surprise. As candidate lists are finalised by Communist Party-run committees, it has been busy sorting out exactly which “radishes” should fit into which “pits”.
Many candidates have been told they can’t run because they aren’t Communist Party members, even though according to China’s district congress election law, all citizens over 18 are permitted to stand.
Independent candidate Liang Shuxin in Guangdong, who campaigned on a promise to build a local food market after the previous one was knocked down by developers, was even told he was disqualified because he was a man, a surprising development given the masculine bent of Chinese politics.
Overall, it’s hard to get a precise picture of the outcome of this wave of independent candidacies. Liang is now declining to speak to the media, for instance, and many others who initially stood for election have now given up on the process.
Others are persisting, like worker’s rights activist Zhou Decai in Dengzhou, Henan province. An election committee official in Henan told Aboluowang.com that “the provincial officials have not yet decided on the province’s ‘spirit’ in the election”, i.e. whether independents will be allowed to stand.
Still, two men seem to have succeeded in getting onto the ballot, Dongfang Daily and Southern Metropolis Daily report. Both were also elected to Nanhai district People’s Congress in Foshan city in Guangdong province, long considered a politically liberal part of China.
At the end of September, Guo Huojia, a 59 year-old ex-farmer and Foshan resident, won a resounding victory, according to the Dongfang Daily. Of 7,718 valid ballots cast in his district, Guo won 4,827, or a solid 63% of the vote.
Li Youzhou, 37, an official at nearby Xiaxi village, won 3,232 votes in a voting district of 6,389 people, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported.
“Uncle Jia”, as Guo is fondly known in his Sanshan district, is a popular figure who has long campaigned against illegal land grabs.
“In the eyes of local farmers he is a hero,” wrote the Dongfang Daily.
Guo’s platform, like that of many independents, is straightforward: “Firstly, to protect the interests of local people and to provide social and old age insurance; Secondly, to use the law to protect the interests and rights of the Sanshan people, building happy future generations,” he told the newspaper.
Whether this pair turn out to be outliers among a wider group of disappointed candidates remains to be seen.
Zhang, the university lawyer, wrote on 21ccom.net: “The appearance of these candidates is natural, and is the beginning of democratic elections.” However, as we discussed in issue 98, the National People’s Congress consists of 2,987 ‘elected’ deputies.
The inclusion of a handful of independent candidates will have little impact on how the country is run, in the near term at least.
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