Residents of a village in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have hit out at the alleged rigging of a village election earlier this month amid a corruption scandal.
Wang Songling, the former chairperson of Laizhou city's Shizhulan village committee who exposed corruption by village party officials, said officials and unidentified hired thugs garnered support by “donating” rice in return for votes.
Local officials from the village, which is administered by Pinglidian township, later returned all the ruling Chinese Communist Party-backed candidates to the newly constituted village committee, Wang and other witnesses told RFA.
Ballot box tampering
A video of the polling day seen by RFA showed a cluster of men standing around chatting, smoking and observing the proceedings alongside uniformed police officers.
At one point, when police are no longer in eyeshot, the men gather around one of the red-painted ballot boxes during polling on Oct. 21, look around to see if anyone is watching them, and open and close the lid.
"The election committee started canvassing on Oct. 18 and 19 and hired criminal gang members to canvass for them," Wang said. "They wanted to get rid of me, so they went from house to house with gifts of rice."
"When the people showed up at the polling station, they told them they had eaten their rice and stood there supervising the villagers," she said.
She said each voter was given a 10-pound sack of rice and a list of candidates supported by incumbent village party secretary Ge Xuetong.
Polling was then supervised by Ge, local police officers and government officers, who ignored the fact that many of those voting were ineligible, as they came from outside the area, Wang said.
"The villagers told the government that they wouldn't vote if they all stood there watching them like that, but the party secretary and the government officials said nothing," she said.
Wang said popularly elected former village chief Wang Yuxi had accused a former party secretary of corrupt practices during her time in office as chairperson of the village committee, an elected position in many Chinese villages.
"Nothing was done about it, although they got rid of that party secretary, but they were determined to get rid of me at this election," she said.
A resident of nearby Guozhuang village told RFA that the seven new village committee members were all handpicked by "higher-ups."
"The previous village chief, who is a woman, had revealed details of corruption on the part of former village party secretary Liu Yunshan," he said.
"The party secretary wanted revenge on her, so they brought in some total riffraff to the polling station, and they took charge," the resident, also surnamed Wang, said.
"This time around, they rigged the vote for the village committee," he said. "They wouldn't let anyone vote for Wang Songling."
Out of the running
A third local resident confirmed Wang Songling's allegations.
"On Oct. 18, they handed out sacks of rice to every household as well as a piece of paper with a list of seven names picked by the election committee," the resident said.
While the Oct. 21 vote is only the first stage of the election for village chief, Wang Songling is now effectively out of the running, he said.
"In 20 days, they will vote to choose a village chief, but the only candidates are the seven people on the election committee's list," he said.
Repeated calls to the village neighborhood committee offices rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.