Chinese Eviction Village Wins Rare Vote

2013-04-01
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Chinese voters insert their ballots into a box at a polling station in Sansha city, July 21, 2012.
ImagineChina

Residents of a farming community near the northern Chinese city of Xi'an have hailed a recent election for their preferred village chief as a "victory for the people," following the ouster of his predecessor amid a bitter land dispute.

Residents of Gaowangdui village in Chang'an district voted in their new chief on Sunday by 892 votes to the 147 garnered by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's preferred candidate, sparking emotional scenes of celebration among local people.

"We got the result of the election," said a Gaowangdui resident surnamed Xie. "This is a huge victory for ordinary people."

"Xie Li, the candidate the villagers wanted, got 892 votes, while the old village chief got 147," Xie said.

"The people carried the day. Most of the villagers have been moved to tears."

He said the villagers planned a celebration with firecrackers, drums and cymbals to congratulate Xie Li.

Like land protesters in the rebel village of Wukan in 2011, Gaowangdui villagers campaigned for democratic elections to replace Li, who has presided over the forced eviction of more than 750 households with no alternative arrangements offered.

The election came 18 months after the removal of previous incumbent Li Yiqun from office after a vigorous petitioning campaign against him.

Xie Li vowed to stick to a letter of promises he had written to local residents during the campaign.

"I will be implementing what it says in the letter," he said. "I will be working for the people."

Forced eviction

Gaowangdui residents accuse Li Yiqun of selling off the majority of the village's collectively owned farmland for development, without adequate consultation or compensation.

"The district government chief came here a few days ago and made a note of all the issues," Xie Li said.

Fellow villager Xie said local residents had only won the right to a new poll following 18 months of bureaucratic tussles with local officials.

"I think it's possible [that Li Yiqun will be investigated]," he said.

A second resident, also surnamed Xie, said the village had lost housing for more than 750 households to forced demolition and evictions, and faced frequent power cuts and road blocks as officials tried to wear down resistance to further development.

"Those without homes have to rent elsewhere, and those who still  have them live in total chaos," he said. "They can't drive in and out, because the roads are blocked off."

"One day there will be power, the next day there won't," the second resident said. "At night, the villagers use their own generators [for a power source]."

Local people are demanding from the government adequate rehousing following their eviction, residents said.

"Everyone is calling for them to start work on the rehousing projects, and to address the issues of where our kids will go to school and our health insurance," the second Xie said.

"There are still more than 200 households whose homes haven't yet been demolished."

Newly elected leaders in Wukan say they have struggled to secure the return of land sold off by a former village chief, in spite of democratic elections for a new village committee in March 2012, however.

Violent forced evictions, often resulting in deaths and injuries, are continuing to rise in China, as cash-strapped local governments team up with development companies to grab property in a bid to boost revenue, rights groups say.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.