Land Protester Wins Election

Chinese farmer gains unexpected win against government-backed candidate.

Officials count votes at local elections in Wuhu, eastern China's Anhui province, March 20, 2008.

A farmer from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong has scored a landslide victory in elections to his district-level parliament after campaigning against forced land sales but the government has not endorsed the result and has placed him under round-the-clock police surveillance.

Guo Huojia, of Sanshan village near Guangdong's Foshan city, beat the government-backed candidate in elections to the township level National People's Congress (NPC) on Wednesday with more than 4,800 votes, around 2,000 more than his opponent.

Guo is the first independent candidate known to have succeeded in taking part in this year's local NPC elections, in spite of bids by dozens of political activists across China to secure nomination as candidates.

"We did everything according to the law to satisfy the government here," Guo said after the votes were counted on Wednesday.

A day later and after RFA publicized his victory and ran his telephone interview , Guo has been placed under constant police watch, said Guangdong activist Chen Qitang.

“It was probably that… your report was cited by other media all over the world.  Domestic media do not dare to report it.," Chen told RFA on Thursday.

"This morning, four or five security personnel arrived at his home and he is now under 24-hour surveillance,” he said, adding that Guo's telephone line is also being intercepted by public security.

The government has yet to announce the official election result, and Chen said he feared officials would refuse to concede the election to Guo, in spite of his resounding victory.

China allows direct provincial and municipal elections for so-called People's Congresses across the country, but the process is tightly controlled by local Communist Party leaders.

The People's Congresses are the lowest bodies in China's tiered parliamentary system. The National People's Congress (NPC) is China's parliament, and its delegates have traditionally been handpicked by the Communist Party.

'Happy and excited'

"I am very happy and excited," Guo said before he was placed under police watch. "[I expect to be take office formally] after the National Day holiday."

"My first priorities are concern for people's livelihoods, social security issues, and the rights of Sanshan villagers."

Local people said Guo's victory had come in spite of a high-spending and dirty campaign by the government's preferred candidate.

"The government candidate was shelling out a lot of cash to take people out to dinner and [buy support]," said one resident of Sanshan village.

Guo has been a leading activist in a long-running campaign in his district to prevent development on rural land which villagers say was sold without their consent and with no compensation.

The dispute boiled over into a large-scale security crackdown in 2007 after hundreds of police were dispatched to the area to clear the land of protesters who were encamped there.

Rights lawyers said at the time that the development work was illegal and that the authorities' response masked a network of behind-the-scenes crony capitalism.

Thousands of protests

China sees thousands of grass-roots protests every year, often at alleged wrongdoing by local officials in connection with lucrative land deals and property developments.

Activists, petitioners, and the lawyers who help them are often detained, harassed, beaten up, or given jail terms.

According to Chen Qitang, the government-backed candidate's campaign put out a nonstop stream of allegations about Guo in an attempt to dissuade voters from backing him.

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

More than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels are currently standing for election in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships from May 7 through December of next year.

NPC elections are held every five years.


Many activists have been harassed, detained, or stonewalled after seeking nomination in the current round of NPC elections.

Last week, authorities in the Chinese capital detained a veteran pro-democracy activist and held another activist for questioning after they joined a campaign to field independent NPC candidates.

Dozens of political activists have joined a campaign to file applications to stand for the elections, in spite of official warnings that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate.

Official media have said that anyone hoping to stand for elections this year to the district-level congresses will first have to clear "due legal procedures," the official Xinhua news agency reported.

However, activists are hoping to use a clause in the election rules which allows anyone with the endorsement of at least 10 constituents to seek nomination.

Reported by Bi Zimo for RFA's Cantonese service and Gao Shan and Shen Hua for Mandarin service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Jennifer Chou. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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