Probe International in the News

China votes … on the Internet

(June 15, 2011) How microblogs are becoming a platform for independent election campaigns.

As China enters an election cycle to fill two million positions at every level of local government, independent candidates are mounting their own grassroots campaigns for office via the Internet. Microbloggers in their dozens have taken to the Web to declare their candidacy for seats in local versions of the National People’s Congress – China’s quasi legislature. Although, the challenge from social media savvy independents is small, China’s ruling Communist Party is nevertheless taking note.

According to reports, Chinese authorities appear to be restricting attempts by citizens to run in local legislative elections as self-proclaimed independent candidates, stating that such candidacies are illegal and that no one can run for office without first clearing a series of procedural hurdles.

In principle, the country’s constitution permits any adult to run for the largely powerless local People’s Congresses, except those who have been formally stripped of political rights. In reality, however, China’s one-Party government system tends to ensure the vote favours its own candidates, mostly officials and Party members.

(June 15, 2011) In spite of the obstacles, citizens still have the right to proclaim themselves and this year’s increased wave of independents – compared to the last cycle in 2006 – is a clear signal that citizens are keen to participate in the election process.

Rights activist Zeng Jinyan – the wife of fellow jailed activist Hu Jia, due to be released later this month – pulls together a snapshot of the candidates seeking independent election this year and their campaign platforms. She remembers, with irony, that Mao Zedong used to say, “A single spark can start a prairie fire” to describe a people’s revolution and wonders if the surge in electioneering on the Internet might just be that spark.

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By Zeng Jinyan for Probe International

People’s Congresses at China’s district level of government will begin their election cycle this coming autumn, held every five years. The role of these congresses – or people’s governments – is only symbolic, they are powerless rubber-stamp legislatures in effect. That role will likely remain unchanged this year in spite of independent candidates coming forward, on the Internet – the home of the netizen, to announce their willingness to serve the people.

The wave of enthusiastic candidates is impressive. Since May 25, influential writers, intellectuals and ordinary Internet users have announced their intention to participate in the people’s representative election on microblogs. With the click of a mouse, their posts are flashed onto different microblog platforms such as Sina Weibo, and Twitter, with thousands of comments flowing in a remarkable grassroots electoral surge.

“I am not controlled by any power or force.”

Li Chengpeng wants your vote.

News commentator, sports reporter and author Li Chengpeng wrote on Weibo at 17:32, May 25:

“To confirm, I intend to formally run for the people’s representative election this September in Chengdu, where my Hukou[1] is, organizing my election campaign team, strictly adhering to regulations related to elections under the Constitution. I first considered running in an election and discussed it on my microblog last year. I have made my decision to participate in this election after long and serious consideration. I am a legitimate citizen[2] I am not controlled by any power or force[3]. I want to voice the legal demands on behalf of voters in my electoral district by monitoring government, with the purpose of improving Chinese society. No matter which part of Chinese society you hail from, please give me your suggestions on my participation in this election. Please raise your hand if you agree with me.”

确认:本人将于今年9月正式参选人大代表,在户口所在地成都,组成参选班子,严格遵守我国宪法参选相关规定。此想法去年已微博公布,现思考良久正式参选,本人合法公民,无任何势力操纵,愿为选区人民表达他们之合法愿景,监督政府,推动社会。恳请各界人士指点参选路径及办法。同意的举手。

Li Chengpeng’s microblog post was quickly forwarded 6,541 times and drew 6,087 comments on Weibo by 14:38, May 27.

“Please respect the right of Chinese citizens to be elected. Don’t block this post anymore.”

Author Xia Shang re-announced his candidacy for election along with a photo of the cover of the Electoral Law on Weibo at 20:01, May 25 with an appeal to the Internet server, Sina, which had removed his initial announcement:

Cover of the Electoral Law.

“[Repost! Sina. Please respect the right of Chinese citizens to be elected. Don’t block this post anymore.] I am preparing to run for Jing’an district people’s representative election in Shanghai, where my Hukou is. This microblog is one of my election campaign platforms. Lawyers who would like to provide legal assistance and journalists, who would like to provide media assistance, please send me private messages (for further contact). My reasons for running in this election are: one, to fulfill Chinese citizens’ rights which are guaranteed under the Electoral Law; two, to echo and support others who are also running as independent elector candidates across China; three, if elected, to dedicate myself to the service of the voters in my district.”

[重发!请新浪尊重公民被选举权,别再次屏蔽此帖]本人准备参选户籍所在地上海市静安区人大代表。本微博将作为参选平台之一。请有意提供法律和媒体帮助的律师、记者私信联系本人。参选理由三条:1,兑现选举法给予的公民权利。2,对各地类似的自荐行为进行声援。3,一旦当选,将为选区人民竭诚服务。

His post was forwarded 9,720 times and drew 3,392 comments by 11:30 a.m., May 27.

“I will pay for all election fees myself. If elected, I will also pay for all working fees during my term …”

Yao Bo, a columnist with China Daily who is known famously by his pen name, Wuyuesanren, announced his electoral campaign for People’s Representative on Weibo at 22:13, May 26:

“After careful consideration, I have decided to run for office in Beijing’s district and county level people’s representative election as an ethnic minority person without a party affiliation. Name: Yao Bo; Age: 39; Hukou: Beijing. My goal in seeking this election is to speak for my voters and struggle for their rights. I will pay for all election fees myself. If elected, I will also pay for all working fees during my term, but I maybe accept volunteers’
help to assist my work.”

经过审慎的考虑,我决定以无党派、少数民族的身份参加今年举行的北京市区县人大代表选举。姓名:姚博 年龄:39岁 户籍:北京。我选举的目的是代表本区的选民争取他们的利益,为他们说话。所有选举费用由我个人承担,如果当选,在任期内的办公费用亦由我个人承担,有可能接受义工的帮助。

This post was forwarded 11,078 times and drew 5,617 comments on Weibo by 14:38, May 27.

University assistant professor Wu Danhong (penname Wu Fatian) announced his intention to participate in the election on Weibo at 13:51, May 26:

“In this year of Beijing’s county and district level people’s representative election, I, Wu Danhong, as a citizen will run for Haidian District people’s representative. I promise to obey all regulations in the Constitution and the Electoral Law, participating in the election lawfully. I hope voters in Haidian District will co-sign in order to nominate me as a candidate.[4] I pledge to keep in close contact with my constituents, listening to public opinion and reflecting on the public’s views, paying special attention to the issue of people’s livelihoods, and working to advance Chinese democratic institutions and the rule of law.”

【参选】今年是北京市区县人大代表换届选举之年,本人吴丹红将以公民身份参选海淀区人大代表,保证遵守《宪法》、《选举法》的有关规定,依法参与。也希望海淀地区的选民可以联名推荐本人为候选人。本人会密切联系人民群众,听取和反映大家的意见和要求,关注民生,为推动中国民主法治进程尽绵薄之力。

This post was forwarded 3,198 times and drew 1,601 comments by 15:00, May 27.

“The people’s representative election should be a first step in Chinese political reform.”

A director of an independent think-tank Citizens’ Participation in Legislation Study Center of Beijing New Enlightenment Research Institute, Xiong Wei, announced his participation on the morning of May 27. His original microblog post had been forwarded 5,943 times with 2,162 comments before it was deleted by censors. He wrote on Weibo:

“I formally announce my intention to stand for Beijing Haidian District people’s representative. As a director of an independent think-tank, an independent intellectual who has been working in Beijing for nine years but never have a chance to see a ballot, my election campaign slogan is: Fight for the electoral rights of nine million Beijing residents who do not have Beijing Hukou and hundreds of millions of migrant people (over the entire country), in pursuit of democracy and the rule of law under today’s laws. The people’s representative election should be a first step in Chinese political reform. I need your valuable support. Please follow me on my microblog.”

正式宣布竞选北京海淀区人大代表。作为一名民间智库负责人、独立学者、已在北京工作9年但从未见过选票的非京籍居民,竞选口号是:为900万非京籍、数亿流动人口争取选举权,探索在现有法律框架内推动中国走向民主法治的路径。人大代表竞选应成为中国政改的突破口。需要你们宝贵的支持,请关注我的微博。

Some 30 netizens from different backgrounds from several cities of many provinces – from Yunnan to Zhejiang to Jiangsu to Gansu to Jiangxi province, to name just a few – are coming forward to announce their candidacy for the upcoming election. The group known
as “Independent Participation in the Election of People’s Representatives” on Weibo now has 523 members. These microbloggers, who have announced their decisions to run as candidates for the election, are using the micro-blogosphere as a platform to discuss their campaign positions and strategies with each other and with the public, as well as to discuss election rules and guidelines under the constitution, disseminate their election slogans and policies, posters, proposals and goals if elected, and to listen and talk to their voters. One after the other, as the microbloggers announced their intention to run in the elections, their voices, and those of their supporters echoed across China and more candidates came forward stating their intention of running too.

One petitioner[5], named Liu Ping[6], a former State Owned Enterprise (SOE) worker who was forcibly retired, is perhaps the mother of this emerging microblog election campaign. After petitioning fruitlessly for almost three years for workers’ rights, she decided instead to run for election as a local people’s representative. Then, on May 13, she was detained, only to be released five days later, on May 18. May 15, as it happened, was the day of the vote for the election of the candidates for the local people’s representative. Liu Ping said on the morning of her release: “No matter what the result [of the May 15 vote], I have already won.”

No one knows what will happen as these citizens attempt to transfer their Internet-announced candidacies in the upcoming elections to the real world of China’s electoral process. Will their rights to become candidates be honoured? Or will they be detained on the day of the vote, just as Liu Ping was?

Ironically, Chinese dictator Mao Zedong used to famously say, “A single spark can start a prairie fire” to describe a people’s revolution. Now in this modern authoritarian country, we may be witnessing the little spark that could start a political rights movement on the Internet.

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[1] A Hukou or Huji refers to a system of residency permits dating back to ancient China, where household registration is required by law in People’s Republic of China and Republic of China (Taiwan). See here for more information.

[2] And therefore, as a citizen of China, is entitled to participate in the election according to the rules laid out in the Constitution.

[3] And is controlled by no enemy force.

[4] According to the law, ten or more voters are required to co-sign to nominate a candidate for people’s representative.

[5] “Petitioner, 访民或上访者, is a special term in Chinese to describe a person who is suffering an injustice and who appeals to “petitioning” offices and bureaus in different government departments and the State Bureau for Letters, calling for justice. In the book The Petitioner: Living Fossil Under Chinese Rule By Law, authorities said there were more than 550,000 petitioners in 2004. See here for more information.

[6] A Chinese petitioner who runs for election as an independent candidate, but is harassed and detained by local government and police.

For more information on Zeng Jinyan, click here.

For further reading on this issue:

China Appears to Be Moving to Halt Grass-Roots Candidates

Independent Candidates Ruled Out

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