Shanghaiist recently caught wind of events happening down in Guangzhou relating to the recall of a Taishi village chief Chen Jinsheng. Chen was elected with 60 percent of the vote, but villagers in this suburb of Guangzhou felt that Chen was incompetent, citing huge budget deficits, and that he needed to be recalled. Hence they attempted to get the 20 percent of eligible voters needed for an effective recall petition, and, despite some conflicts with the authorities about who could be counted and why, they managed to get more than that amount. The situation escalated when the government seized the financial documents of the village, which contained whatever written information there was about village chief Chen’s activities. Anything related to corruption or the budget deficit would be found there. The government took this by force while some villagers tried to resist, which lead to villagers getting arrested and subsequent hunger strikes.
Nonetheless, as was mandated by the law, the next step was to select seven people to be on the recall committee, but the local government tried to stack this selection process by pushing for candidates who were all local officials of some sort. The people rejected, saying this they wanted ordinary people who were not officials for this committee — and surprisingly, they got them. However, in the end these seven committee members all resigned, citing the pressure on them, while some of the villagers and activists are still languishing in jail. The government managed to convince people to retract their signatures, so that the number of people dropped beneath the required 20 percent, meaning that the petition and subsequent recall process is invalid and can be halted immediately.
The ESWN blog has an excellent chronology of these events, complete with links to some original news articles. The BBChas some articles about the confrontation between the villagers and the police during August and September (in Chinese, and not accessible from China without proxy server). The most recent BBC article, dated October 4, states that one of the activists is still in jail and has been on a hunger strike for more than 20 days, and is in frail health (ditto previous comments on accessibility). Dig into these articles and you’ll discover that not surprisingly, journalists were harassed, with one Radio Free Asia reporter being told that it was “overseas” organizations playing the role of the troublemaker and instigators again. This October 1 Sing Tao article has an interesting choice of words in its title: it describes what happened to this nascent experiment in grassroots democracy with the term yao zhe (夭折), which is a verb often used to describe the death of an infant or young child or anything else that is relatively young (doesn’t have to be a living organism) and died an untimely death.