About 80 independent candidates for local Peoples' Congresses are
using the power of social media in China to challenge the Communist
party's lock on political office.
As local government elections get underway nationwide in China, a
new breed of independent would-be politician is emerging to
challenge the ruling Communist party's near total stranglehold on
Harnessing the mobilizing power of social networking websites for
the first time and attracting unprecedented attention to themselves,
these candidates for local Peoples' Congresses are posing a dilemma
for the government.
"There appears to be some uncertainty and debate at the upper
echelons [of government] about how to deal with this," says Russell
Leigh Moses, author of an upcoming book on the changing nature of
power in China.
Some of those putting themselves forward as candidates, such as
popular blogger Li Chengpeng, seem likely to be thorns in the
authorities' side. "You will never know the benefit of standing up
if you always stay on your knees," Mr. Li declared in a combative
campaign statement he sent out to his 2 million followers on Sina
Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog.
Others seem to be simply asking for a chance to participate in a
system that has almost always excluded citizens who are not members
of the Communist party. "I want public opinion to be translated into
public policy," says Xu Yan, a young advertising executive in the
eastern city of Hangzhou, explaining why he is hoping to be a
candidate in his local elections later this year.
Denied ballot space
The initial signals have not augured well for the more outspoken
independents. Liu Ping, a woman living in the eastern province of
Jiangxi who had made a name for herself by bringing her grievances
with the local government to the central government's attention, was
denied a place on the ballot in her local elections last month, and
detained by the police during the election period.
"But I don't think the government can constantly put itself on
high alert and stop independents from running by branding them
enemies of the state," says Liu Yawei, director of the Carter
Center's China program in Atlanta. Government interference, he
warns, will lead to "challenges, and maybe a storm brewing."
The local elections, which began last month, will continue until
December next year. The bodies to be chosen are on the lowest level
of China's governance system, dealing mainly with nuts and bolts
issues such as garbage collection and local business regulation, but
they offer the only real chance that Chinese citizens outside the
Communist party have to play a role in public life.
The cost of standing for election
Independents have stood in such elections before, but rarely with
much success. …