Would-be independent candidates in district-level parliamentary elections have hit out at a recent poll in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, saying it was conducted without transparency amid allegations of vote-buying, unofficial detentions, and police violence.
Li Zhaoxiu, an independent candidate in Sichuan's Shuangliu county, said the practice of cash-for-votes is common in rural Sichuan as a way of enticing rural communities to turn out at local elections.
"Paying money [to voters] is part of the electoral landscape," Li said. "There is a special fund set aside to make these payments."
"They are usually payments of 10 yuan or 20 yuan per voter."
Another Shuangliu county candidate, Gan Xinyan, said she was beaten up by security guards in the hire of her local neighborhood committee.
"They grabbed me by the hair and pinned me to the ground and kicked me all over my body," Gan said. "After they had kicked me all over my back, legs, and chest, they trampled on me."
"They were wearing leather boots and they trampled my entire body."
Polling times changed
Independent candidate Hou Guiying told RFA's Cantonese service that she was given a 20 yuan (U.S.$3.17) cash "subsidy" when she cast her ballot in the Jinniu district of Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu.
In Chengdu's Wenjiang district, polling times were changed to the early hours of the morning ending at 8:00 a.m, with voters notified by text message the night before, activists said.
"Not many people are going to get up to vote before dawn," said Wang Binru, whose attempt to stand as an independent candidate in her home district was rejected by the authorities.
Some candidates went around knocking on doors on Saturday evening, the night before the election, Wang said. "A lot of people were still asleep, and some weren't even home," she said. "What the government really wants is for nobody to vote."
Authorities in Wenjiang district posted a notice on Monday afternoon announcing that the two candidates backed by local government had got the most votes, but gave no details of how many ballots were issued, and how many were returned.
"The authorities announced that their two candidates won by 2,000 votes and 1,000 votes, but they didn't say how many votes were cast overall," Wang said. "The election law requires that candidates win more than half of possible votes, but without this information there is no way to question [the results]."
A second would-be independent candidate from Wenjiang district, Wu Yong, said the ballot boxes were not locked, and the votes weren't counted openly in public view.
"After the polls, the election workers didn't announce the votes on the spot ... They just took the ballot boxes away," she said. "The winners were decided in advance. The whole election was chaotic and illegal."
Meanwhile, Qingyang district independent candidate Wang Rongwen was taken away by around 10 state security police on Monday during polling for her home district, her son said.
"After they took my mother away on Monday, they took her to the polling place and then kept her under their control," Wang's son said, adding that police were holding her on the outskirts of the city, where she would remain for four to five days.
"My mother's freedom has been curbed for no reason," he said.
Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said China's election regulations had never been properly implemented.
"A law does exist, but no one implements it," Huang said. "The electoral process is a black-box operation."
He called on more Chinese citizens to attempt registration as independent candidates, and called on the authorities to account for sloppy and rigged ballots.
"They have repeatedly pointed out many violations of laws and regulations, but the response of the authorities has been to repress the independent candidates more and more forcefully," Huang said.
'No such thing'
Many independent candidates have already been the targets of harassment by the authorities, with many called in for questioning, threatened, and detained without charge.
China allows direct provincial and municipal elections for the local levels of the National People's Congress across the country, but the process is tightly controlled by the Communist Party.
More than two million lawmakers at the local levels will be elected in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships in elections which began last year, and extend through December 2012. The poll is held every five years.
However, officials have warned that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate, and have ordered the media not to cover those who seek election outside the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the Party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service and by Gao Shan for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.