Independent Election Candidate Held in China's Chongqing After Traffic 'Accident'

2016-11-22
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The map shows the municipality of Chongqing in southwestern China.
The map shows the municipality of Chongqing in southwestern China.
RFA

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing on Tuesday detained an activist who sought to run as independent candidate in forthcoming local elections after he was hit by a vehicle en route to launch his candidacy.

Xie Dan, who had planned to seek election to the local-level People's Congress in his home district of Yuzhong, was taken to the Chaotianmen police station after being hit by a vehicle on the street, he told RFA.

"I can't really tell you any details right now because I'm still not free," Xie said. "All I can tell you is that it hasn't been resolved yet, and that it has effectively prevented me from going ahead with my candidacy in the People's Congress elections."

An employee who answered the phone at the Chaotianmen police station declined to comment on Xie's status.

"Xie Dan? I have to say I don't really know," the employee said. "Sorry, sorry, I don't know about this matter."

The rights website Canyu said Xie had been heading to government offices to pick up a nomination form at the time of the "accident."

Xie's detention is the latest in a string of detentions and other restrictions placed on would-be independent candidates in district-level People's Congress elections in recent months.

Powerful vested interests

China's electoral guidelines state that candidates may put themselves forward if they receive recommendations from at least 10 local voters in direct elections to district and township level People's Congresses.

But powerful vested interests mean that the majority of local "elections" are decided in advance, while independent candidates are frequently targeted for persecution, harassment, and detention.

Official media have also warned that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate.

Chongqing-based rights activist Hu Guiqin, said she was also prevented from standing as an independent candidate by local officials.

"I was planning to stand in the elections, and back in September the local leader even encouraged me to do this," Hu told RFA. "He said it was a good thing, but then he never gave me the nomination form."

"His leaders had gotten involved and stopped me from running," Hu said. "They didn't give me any other reason, and I told them they were depriving me of my political rights."

Fellow Chongqing activist Li Guoqun said he had also run into difficulties.

"I have been several times to apply to stand as a candidate, but they told me I couldn't because of my background as a petitioner and rights activist," Li said.

"They said I didn't qualify, because I was detained in Beijing for five days on one occasion," Li said. "I am still bitterly disappointed, because I wanted to express the hopes and wishes of ordinary people ... to those higher up."

Battling it out

Former top ruling Communist Party aide Bao Tong said China's "electoral" process couldn't be compared at any level with that of the recent presidential elections in the United States.

"I would like to pay tribute to a constitution that upholds people's right to vote, and to stand in elections," Bao, a former aide to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, wrote in an essay broadcast on RFA's Mandarin Service on Monday.

"Elections in the United States aren't just put on for show; they are not empty and devoid of meaning," wrote Bao, who has been under house arrest and close surveillance since serving a seven-year jail term in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

"Some people like to beat themselves up with the idea that American democracy is somehow 'fake,' but U.S. elections are real elections," he said.

"A large number of candidates have to battle it out several times before it gets narrowed down ... but in China there is no need of predictions about the outcome of elections," he said.

Every three to five years, China "elects" more than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels across the country to local-level People's Congresses in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships. The congresses largely rubber stamp party decisions and personnel choices.

But apart from a token group of "democratic parties" that never oppose or criticize the ruling party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.

Last week, would-be independent candidates expressed concern over the safety of constitutional scholar and former People's Congress deputy Yao Lifa, who has been incommunicado since the beginning of the month.

Yao, who in 1998 became the first independent delegate to be elected to a municipal seat in a local People's Congress, has since coached other election hopefuls via social media how to win votes.

His bid to use his status to campaign for poverty alleviation and the rights of local people inspired a nationwide movement to field independent candidates in local elections.

Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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