Independent election hopeful taken away by police in China's Chongqing

The persecution of those outside CCP ranks during elections gives the lie to Beijing's 'democracy' claims.
By Wang Yun
2021.12.06
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Independent election hopeful taken away by police in China's Chongqing Voting for local People's Congress representatives is shown in Beijing in a file photo.
AP

Two would-be independent election candidates in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing have been forced to pull out of a bid to run in elections for their district and county-level People's Congresses.

Tang Jingzhou, who tried to run in Chongqing's Yuzhong district, said local authorities there failed to inform her of the progress of her application, which had garnered the requisite number of endorsements from local residents, then suddenly held the "election" without telling her on Dec. 3.

"I complained that they had skipped out the part where candidates are supposed to take questions from members of the public," Tang told RFA in a recent interview. "Surely that's part of their job? Why didn't they inform me [whether my application was successful]?"

"There's a lot of hidden money in these elections," she said.

She said that while she was challenging officials over their running of the poll, the police showed up.

"The head of the local police station came, the community police officer and auxiliary officers -- a whole bunch of people, maybe five or six of them," Tang said. "The surrounded me and told me to come away with them."

"They asked me why I was interfering in the elections ... I asked how [trying to run as a candidate] could be regarded as interfering in elections," she said. "I told them I had a right to ask questions ... and to vote."

"Then the police took me away."

Tang's treatment came as the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) published a white paper touting leader Xi Jinping's claim that "whole process democracy" is just as democratic as any other political system.

But Tang's experience, and that of dozens of other would-be independent candidates in districts across China this year, has been that the authorities will do everything in their power to prevent broader participation in the electoral system, leaving it open only to candidates already endorsed by the CCP.

"There was very little publicity [about the elections] in the community where I live; no banners, no announcements, nothing," Tang told RFA.

She said officials had claimed her application had expired after delaying their acceptance of it, citing staffing problems.

Another candidate rejected

Meanwhile, fellow would-be candidate Xiao Zhenyi was rejected by officials in Chongqing's Liangjiang New District.

"It's kind of like a political test; they have to vet your parents and relatives, and look at whether you have done good deeds, whether you have passed or failed political tests, whether you have ever been subject to disciplinary warnings or action, or re-education," Xiao told RFA in a recent interview.

"Anyway, they told me I didn't make the grade."

Tang said some of the people who endorsed her candidacy application had later received a phone call from their superiors, and that officials had refused to accept two of them.

"Someone told me ... they had been called by the party secretary at the local school and asked if they had recommended a community candidate, saying that I was of 'bad character'," she said.

"I told [the officials] that they were the ones interfering in democracy and in the elections," Tang said. "I said they were sabotaging not just the elections, but the fundamental political system we have in this country."

False claims of democracy

Xia Ming, political science professor at the City University of New York, said China's claim to run a democratic system was a spurious one.

"The most fundamental point of democracy is that it is an open and transparent system and it is run in the public interest," Xia said. "It's supposed to ensure that fairness and justice prevail, and that every individual can receive the protection of the law and live in peace."

"The question is, does anyone listen to the interests of the vast majority of people in China?" Xia said. "If anyone does try to pursue the truth, they will be seen as subverting the government."

Last month,  14 rights activists who planned to run as candidates in elections for district-level People's Congresses said they had withdrawn their candidacy after being targeted by an intimidation campaign.

Since they went public about their candidacy, around 10 activists have been placed under round-the-clock police surveillance, while some have been summoned to their local police station for a "chat," and others forced to leave town under police escort and wait out the election at a tourist resort, the group said in a statement.

Meanwhile, would-be independent local elections candidates in the central province of Hubei said they were unable to get hold of the form needed to record endorsements, the first step in the process to become a candidate.

Local elections will be held across the Beijing municipal area on Nov. 5 to return nearly five thousand district People's Congress representatives and more than 10,000 township People's Congress representatives.

But 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.

Constitutional expert Yao Lifa once succeeded in being elected to the Qianjiang municipal People's Congress in 1998, where he used his platform to criticize government policy.

But after a 10-year struggle to get elected, he was shunted aside five years later and has been subjected to official retaliation ever since, including secret detention, torture and starvation, according to his wife.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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