Rowan Callick on Chinese democracy

A fascinating piece from Rowan Callick in The Australian today on the repressive nature of Chinese democracy, where those insufficiently loyal to the ruling Communist party are not allowed to participate:

Today, under Xi Jinping, we are seeing clear limits on how far popular representation can go.

This approach is now being applied consistently, through mainland China and in special administrative regions such as Hong Kong, where two awkward young legislators were disqualified from taking their places on Tuesday night…

In mainland China, everyone above 18 can vote for their district People’s Congress representatives, who do not have to be party members. Those congresses meet for five years. The local congresses choose the representatives for the municipal or provincial level congresses, which choose those who form the National People’s Congress that meets every March in Beijing.

… Under China’s constitution, anyone can stand for membership of a district congress. In practice, party authorities will assess candidates. Those who pass muster initially but act too independently after being elected are soon weeded out. Others who ­appear palpably unacceptable to the authorities are prevented from standing.

All must in time, if not at the start, defer to the party hierarchy, which is superior to the civic structures and retains the power to veto or initiate policies.

No access is available to the mass media or social media for candidates to explain themselves. The only way to present a case is to meet voters in person.

Five years ago in Wukan, a ­village in Guangdong province in the country’s south, in the dying days of the Hu-Wen leadership team, a bitter dispute over an ­alleged land grab by party officials of farms was defused by ­villagers being allowed to choose their own leaders.

However, these leaders were unable to wrest back the stolen land and protests began again — this time led by Lin Zuluan, elected in 2011. The authorities’ deployed heavily armed riot police, and jailed Lin. The courts confirmed a three-year sentence last month and fined him $40,000. He and the villagers who continued to back him said the corruption charges were trumped up.

In the outskirts of southwest Beijing, villagers of Gaodiansan in Fangshan district had two rounds of voting — the first round reducing the number of candidates. Farmer Liu Huizhen, 45, received substantial support and reached the second round.

But by then the authorities had woken up to the risk of letting her reach any further. She told The Australian she was followed constantly by as many as 20 well-built agents.

Her home is a crude wooden structure, which she and her husband built on land her family had farmed until it was confiscated by the government. The compensation was $50 per adult per month — in a city where the cost of living is considerably higher than Sydney’s.

She said the local government gave police the election records from the first round and visited each of the villagers who had voted for her.

“They asked why they had supported me. After that, most of my neighbours were too scared to do so in the second round,” she said. “All my neighbours had lost land too, and I wanted to speak on behalf of them if I had been elected.”

Liu was defeated in the second ballot.

Xu Zhiyong, a lecturer at ­Beijing’s University of Posts and Telecommunications, won two terms from 2003 and opposed the forced repatriation to hometowns of those without a Beijing hukou, or registration or who represented the families of children who fell sick after taking milk powder enhanced with ­mela­mine. Soon after stepping down from the congress, he was jailed for four years for “disturbing the social order”.

 

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