Now that the US presidential election is over, it’s on to the main event: local elections in China!
On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping was photographed casting his personal ballot at a very red voting booth in Beijing as the city elects new lawmakers for the local people’s congress.
While China has continually slammed the United States for its democratic system which elects candidates like Donald Trump, it is perfectly happy with its own version of democracy with Chinese characteristics, consisting of heavily-controlled direct elections once every five years for local legislatures that are in charge of the more mundane aspects of governance.
The elections are staggered, but by the end of the year, about 2.5 million local lawmakers will be selected by up to 900 million eligible voters. Despite these colossal numbers, you will be hard pressed to find any political rallies, debates or “Get Out the Vote” campaigns over the next few weeks in China. The vast majority of these political candidates all come from the same ruling party.
After casting his ballot, Xi said that “county and township-level elections are a major political event for the country, requiring adherence to the Party’s leadership, democratic spirit and acting in accordance with laws to ensure the people’s right to vote and the right to be elected.”
Much like Trump, the Chinese president also called for “zero tolerance on any violations of the regulations and law on elections.”
Of course, this sort of rhetoric has a different meaning in China. The AFP talked to one 64-year-old retiree named Ye Jinghuan who was treated like an enemy of the state after declaring her candidacy. Despite her seemingly innocent platform — “better controls on traffic, more elder care facilities, and making it easier for constituents to contact their delegates” — Ye was closely monitored by police and prevented from meeting foreign journalists.
“The government can’t let someone like me be a candidate,” Ye said. “I would express my own thoughts. When the people’s congress opens session, I would cast an opposition ballot.”
Despite the fact that Chinese law states that anyone over 18 who hasn’t been stripped of their political rights can run for election, this is often not the case. Official election committees ultimately decide who gets on the ballot.
The winner of these local elections have the responsibility of choosing municipal delegates, who in turn select provincial legislators, who then choose members of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s top legislature which recently named Xi Jinping as China’s “core” leader.
This year, Xi has worked harder than ever to consolidate his power and stamp out dissent. This crackdown seems to working its way down to local levels. Ye told the AFP that 20 other independent candidates had been blocked from running in the local Beijing elections.
The New York Times spoke to one of these hopefuls:
He presented himself as a candidate of the people, a folksy problem-solver who would rid garbage-strewn streets of dog waste and put an end to illegal parking.
But in the eyes of the authorities, Zhang Shangen, 73, a candidate in local elections in Beijing on Tuesday, was a menace seeking to undermine the Communist Party.
The Chinese government blocked Mr. Zhang’s campaign at every turn, sending police officers to intimidate him and his supporters. On the eve of a major rally last month, Mr. Zhang said, the authorities whisked him to a city more than 800 miles away.
“The government manipulates everything,” he said in an interview at his home in Beijing on Tuesday. “They are scared people will wake up to reality.”
Meanwhile, Radio Free Asia reports that three veteran rights activists have been detained in Shanghai for canvassing for an independent candidate in the upcoming local elections.
Ultimately, it looks like we won’t be needing to turn to Nate Silver or Geda for predictions at the outcome of these elections.
[Images via Xinhua]