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Talk of the Day -- Will 'Wukan model' spread across China?

Talk of the Day -- Will 'Wukan model' spread across China?

China's political elite gathered in Beijing Saturday for their most public meetings of the year: the 10-day session of the National People's Congress -- the country's rubber-stamp parliament -- and a concurrent meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference -- a government advisory body. On the same day, villagers who rebelled against officials they accused of seizing their farmland in Wukan, a fishing village nestled on the coast of Guangdong Province in southern China, went to the polls to elect their new administrators. The Wukan election has been widely watched as reformers hope it will help promote democracy as a way to resolve many of the myriad similar disputes besetting China. The vote came months after Wukan residents rose up against corrupt local officials in a bold revolt. Protests flared last September, with villagers smashing a police office and cars. After leading village activists were detained in December, residents drove out officials and barricaded themselves in for 10 days. The standoff ended only after provincial authorities in Guangdong, which borders China's special administrative region of Hong Kong, granted villagers rare concessions, including holding free elections, releasing the detained activists and returning the body of one who died in detention. The outcome has been hailed by some liberal Chinese journalists and pro-democracy activists as the "Wukan model," a systematic approach in which the government puts the interests of villagers ahead of its usual emphasis on maintaining order, often backed by riot police. The following are excerpts from local media coverage of the Wukan election and its possible impact: United Evening News: A carnival atmosphere prevailed in Wukan on Saturday as thousands of villagers formed long lines outside makeshift polling booths in the playground of a local school to cast their ballots. Some 8,000 villagers, watched by more than 50 foreign and Chinese journalists, filled in pink ballots for the seven-member village governing committee. Voters could write up to seven names on a paper slip before placing it into a metal box. A total of 23 residents registered candidacies for the seven posts up for grabs -- a village chief, two deputies and four commissioners on the village ruling committee. Major media organizations from Taiwan, the United States, France, Britain, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong sent staff to cover the election. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing also sent an official to observe the vote. "We continue to monitor developments in Wukan closely," said the U.S. observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Many mainland Chinese civil rights activists, academics and grassroots officials also flocked to Wukan to observe the poll. Villagers in China are by law allowed to vote for a committee to represent them, but many complain of fraud and lack of competition in polls that are often manipulated. Wukan's leaders had held power for decades without being challenged. "This is my first time voting. I hope those elected will make efforts to sort out the land issue and corruption," said a voter in his 40s. (March 3, 2012). United Daily News: Lin Zuluan, Wukan's respected 67-year-old party secretary who was running for the village committee's top post, said the vote offered an opportunity for grassroots democracy. "Both myself and other villagers like the poll very much," Lin said. Behind the scenes, Chinese authorities at city and county levels had been exerting a high degree of control. Xue Jianwan, the daughter of Xue Jinbo, a protest leader who was abducted and died in police detention in December, said senior local officials recently urged her to drop from running as a candidate for the village committee. She said taking part in the election might mean she could no longer continue in her job as a teacher given electoral rules. "The more they don't want me to take part, the more I want to," said Xue in an interview on the election eve. While it seems to be farfetched at the moment to expect the Wukan poll to inspire other mainland people to revolt and challenge the Communist rule, optimistic civil rights activists hailed it as a beacon for their fight for better protection of basic human rights or property rights. "Wukan is an example for us. What Wukan has achieved through its solidarity is something we can learn from," said an activist from Huangshan in eastern China. Moreover, even though the election has not received extensive coverage from China's state media, Twitter-like microblogs such as Sina Webo had been following the proceedings. "Wukan village has written the first page for our 'post-modern' history. Let's welcome this monumental progress," wrote one microblogger. (March 3, 2012). (By Sofia Wu)


Updated : 2021-05-07 06:53 GMT+08:00