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Record Number of Beijing Residents Declare Their Independent Candidacy for Local People’s Congress Seats
China Change, October 22, 2016
“Participation is the simplest, most direct, most realistic, and most effective political action.” — Yao Lifa, 2016
“Actually, the result is not what is most important. What’s most important is to take part. I hope that my participation will tell everyone: Believe in our laws, believe in the progress of this era. Please believe that we have a genuine right to vote.” — Xu Zhiyong, 2003
Update on November 17: 5-minute BBC video tells everything you need to know about Chinese elections.
This year, 2016, is an election year in China: every five years, Chinese citizens elect their people’s representatives (PR), and the vote is on November 15. In Beijing, over 70 people have declared that they are taking part in the elections as “independents,” candidates not recommended by the Party or Party-controlled organizations. On October 14, 18 Beijing residents issued a statement:
….As long-time and grassroots residents, we know very well how difficult it is to communicate with our government, the People’s Congress, the courts, and the Procuratorate. We do whatever we can to locate and talk to our People’s Representatives, but to no avail. … As the district- and county-level election for People’s Congress is getting underway, we have a strong desire to be People’s Representatives! We will make sure that everyone — neighbors, the old and the young — can talk to us anytime. We are willing to speak for you and serve you. Please cast your votes for us, giving us the opportunity to sincerely represent your interests and fulfill our duty.
On October 17, another 32 Beijing residents announced their candidacy for PR, and made a similar promise: They will make sure every voter knows who they are and how to reach them with their problems, and as their representatives, they will monitor the government and its functions. As of last Thursday, the number has grown to 54.
In Shanghai, the renowned rights defender Feng Zhenghu posted an open letter to the voters of his constituency on October 5, announcing his candidacy for PR. He promises to “defend the Constitution, defend the implementation of law in the constituency, and defend the civil rights of constituents.” He said he is “participating in the political process for the sake of the people,” and he asked the residents not to give up their right to vote.
China Change spoke to Mr. He Depu (何德普), one of the 70 or so independent candidates in Beijing, on Friday. He said, any citizen has the right to vote and the right to be elected, and he or she only needs the recommendation of ten voters to register as a candidate. But in reality, there are many hurdles for candidates not recommended by the Communist Party, or by an organization (which is still controlled by the Party), to be selected as an official candidate. In addition, he said, the government has internal instructions to limit and exclude ordinary citizens from taking part.
Mr. He said that the first time he took part in the People’s Representative elections was in the fall of 1980, when he was a young worker in a factory in Beijing. “According to my experience in competing for the District PR in 1980,” he wrote in an article a few years ago, “the candidates recommended by ordinary citizens had the same chance as the candidates recommended by the political parties and organizations in the first round of selection. But the problem is, when it gets to the process of choosing the official candidates from the initial pool of candidates, which lasted only about 10 days, the current law and rules are stacked heavily against the independent candidates.”
Indeed, the Chinese government makes its attitude towards citizens trying to compete for PR seats very clear by harassing them and sometimes throwing them in jail. Last week, police in Beijing prevented independent candidate Ye Jinghuan (野靖环)* from being interviewed by Japanese journalists. In Jiangxi province, independent candidate Yang Wei (杨微) was taken away by security guards when he went to the local People’s Congress to get a candidate recommendation form, and later given a 10-day administrative detention. In Hunan, dissident Guan Guilin (管桂林) has been detained for “disrupting an election” after he attempted to register as an independent candidate in his township in September.
This June in Yongjing county, Gans Province (甘肃永靖), the human rights defender Qu Mingxue (瞿明学) and a number of others were detained for over a month after they recommended a number of independent candidates. On October 16, the netease blog “China Election Observation” (中国选举观察) by Yao Lifa (姚立法), an expert on elections in China and former People’s Representative in Qianjiang, Hubei Province (湖北潜江), was erased. It has been a platform that Yao has been using to publicize and promote grassroots elections in China for years. His recent “Open Letter to Voters Nationwide,” in which he explained the 19 rights citizens have with regard to elections, and outlined details of election procedures, was also purged from domestic websites.
In 2011, the year the last PR elections were held, the 13 independent candidates were all harassed, surveilled, summoned to speak with police, and even abducted following the announcement of their candidacy. They held a few campaign events in the beginning that were tightly controlled by police, but all the rest were disrupted by the authorities or unable to be held because the candidates had been detained in some manner. Of the 13, only Han Ying (韩颖), an NGO worker in Haidian District, was able to enter the primary election (the process between being nominated and becoming a formal candidate). Han Ying told the media that she had “been coercively told to drop out of the race,” and that her phone had been stolen, she’d been “illegally searched, illegally detained, subjected to forced interrogations through the night,” and had her freedom so restricted that she “simply couldn’t do anything.” In the fall of 2014, Han Ying was detained for several months for openly supporting the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong.
In 2011 another independent candidate from Haidian District, the leader of the New Citizens Movement, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), sought to extend his term as a People’s Representative. Students who supported him sent text messages telling him that they were pressured by the university authorities to instead support the university president. Xu Zhiyong implored his supporters to, on the day of the election, directly write his name on the ballot in the “other candidate” column. Xu was arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment in 2013 for his support for educational equality and calling for officials to make public their personal assets.
Liu Ping (刘萍) from Jiangxi Province was detained and tortured for declaring her independent candidacy; in 2014 she was sentenced to six and a half years imprisonment for her involvement in the New Citizens Movement.
Sun Wenguang (孙文广), a retired professor from Shandong University, has participated in People’s Representative elections three times as an independent candidate. He recently spoke to Radio Free Asia: “Why do the authorities so fear independent candidates? One reason is because the regime is a one-party dictatorship, and people standing up to participate in elections is seen as a challenge. The other is that those who act as independent candidates will definitely represent views that aren’t in line with the Communist Party’s. They might criticize the authorities, or go around speaking to crowds, place posters, and represent their political views — and this isn’t allowed.”
On Wednesday October 19, about 30 independent candidates from Beijing gathered in the garden outside the Beijing Municipal Government headquarters, spreading awareness about election law and procedure, and discussing their election tactics. He Depu, who will be taken away from Beijing by police to “travel” until October 28, told China Change that those participating in elections this year are people with a strong sense of civic responsibility. They’re enthusiastic about serving voters, and they dare to face off against the government’s pressure.
Mr. He added: “We don’t know who our People’s Representatives are, and we don’t know what they’re doing. So our undertaking is very basic: if we’re elected, we’ll let all voters know who we are, and we’ll truly represent their interests.”
Starting October 24, candidates from the group of 18 will be campaigning in front of their neighborhood committees. Many of them have been visited by police.
*Ye Jinghuan is the author of a memoir titled “A Worthwhile Trip—A Documentation of Beijing Reeducation-through-Labor Dispatch Center.” China Change has a translation of Teng Biao’s preface to it – “To Remember Is to Resist.”
You would think life has moved on, and the Chinese government has gotten over Chen Guangcheng, the blind barefoot lawyer they had imprisoned and then placed under house arrest. But no, they haven’t. Exactly a year after Chen Guangcheng fled his heavily-guarded house in Dongshigu village on April 20, 2012, they are bearing down on him again by harassing and assaulting his family members in the village. Over the last year, the remaining family, and the village itself, have been carefully monitored, outside visitors were occasionally harassed, but it seemed nothing more than meanness on the part of local officials. Some of the pictures of the village brought to social media showed sunlight, trees, plain-looking farm houses, stone walls, and a general…. bucolic feel if you can forget for a moment the brutalities that have occurred there.
Over the past several week, Chen Guangfu (陈光福, CGC’s eldest brother and Chen Kegui’s father) and another of the Chen brothers have been under intense harassment. According to Chen Guangcheng’s own tweets and reports from Hu Jia, the prominent dissident in Beijing who maintains close contact with the Chen family, rocks, dead chickens and ducks have been thrown into Chen Guangfu’s courtyard in the middle of the night, and the latest “stone rain” occurred Tuesday night Beijing time. Fliers have been posted around the village denouncing the Chen brothers being “han jian” (汉奸, traitors of the Chinese people). Dozens of Guangfu’s young trees growing on his own land were pulled out, and no one responded to his calls to the police. Miles away in another town, another Chen brother’s car was vandalized and all four tires punctured. Joss papers were scattered around the brothers’ houses to supposedly “curse” them.
Last week, on April 18, two artists from Beijing, who had gone to the village to film Chen Guangcheng’s house and his escape route, were beaten by the village’s Communist Party chief Chen Guangshan and the security officer Liu Changsheng. According to Hu Jia, they shouted, “Beat them to death! Smash their car! The state will pay for it anyway!” The two artists eventually were able to leave but not without being questioned by the police of the township, not without one of them hiding in a graveyard for a night.
Wednesday afternoon, Beijing time, prosecutors from Yinan county government and policemen from Shuanghou township public security station came to Chen Guangfu’s home and took his wife away. According to the Notice of Summons posted on Twitter by Hu Jia, Kegui’s mother was summoned for allegedly “hiding and sheltering a criminal.” Chen Guangcheng’s other brother Chen Guangjun received a similar notice around the same time.
Here the “criminal” refers to Chen Kegui. After confronting thugs who broke into his home on April 26, 2012, in an act of self-defense, Chen Kegui ran away fearing for his life. He went to his uncle Chen Guangjun for help. The latter was too scared to keep him; instead, he gave him some money and asked him to leave as soon as possible. After Kegui’s arrest, Kegui’s mother and uncle were criminally detained on the same charges of “hiding and sheltering” Kegui, but were later released “on bail awaiting further investigation.”
We believe that this wave of intense harassment and assault on Chen Guangcheng’s family are meant to retaliate against Chen Guangcheng in light of his overseas activities. He’s currently visiting Germany. He’s in the process of preparing a visit to Taiwan later this year. Chen Guangcheng testified earlier this month during the “Human Rights in China” hearing by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in which he reiterated the need for western countries to uphold their ideals and to take a tough stand against China’s human rights violations. He also submitted to the committee a list of 44 Chinese officials who should be barred from entering the United States, including Zhou Yongkang (周永康), a former chief of Politics and Law Committee, Zhang Gaoli (张高丽), a current member of the Politburo Standing Committee and former party secretary of Shandong province, and other high-ranking officials of Shandong province and local government officials.
Well-known Chinese activist Wen Yunchao (@wenyunchao) commented that “all of the harassment of course is meant to pressure Chen Guangcheng and to shut him up. You can infer where the instructions came from. They cannot be from Shuanghou township government, nor from Linyi, Shandong. They can only come from the central government in Beijing.”
(This New York Times report has more details about the summons.)