Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The fiction of elections

Sharon LaFraniere, writing in the New York Times, describes more examples of the success of the Chinese Communist Party in keeping independent candidates out of office.

Alarmed by Independent Candidates, Chinese Authorities Crack Down
Periodic elections to neighborhood People’s Congresses are as close to participatory democracy as this nation comes. Of the many grass-roots candidates running here this year, Qiao Mu, an energetic 41-year-old journalism professor in the capital, seemed one of the better bets.

Qiao Mu, a professor who ran for office in Beijing, holding a T-Shirt that says, “I won't be able to speak for you if there's no vote.”

He was well known and liked on the campus of the Beijing Foreign Studies University, his election district. He ran an innovative campaign, making full use of social networks and other Internet tools. He amassed a cadre of enthusiastic student campaigners, and he aimed for practical improvements in campus life: a faster Internet connection and permission for students to study in the spare classrooms instead of the crowded cafeteria.

He lost anyway. A university vice president — a largely unknown personage whose campaign amounted to some posters — collected three times as many votes.

Mr. Qiao said authorities did all they could to stymie him, keeping his name off the ballot, threatening his student volunteers, even forcibly collecting the red bookmarks he had printed with the slogan: “I am the master of my ballot.”

“The harassment started from the very beginning,” he said in an interview in his university office, still cluttered with campaign paraphernalia he never got to distribute. “It is a shame, because I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “All we did was follow China’s Constitution and election law.”

His experience demonstrates an underlying political doctrine of today’s China: while Chinese leaders speak in favor of political reform, local authorities routinely deny voters the chance to freely choose a political representative.

Such official machinations have become more obvious and more intense this year — a telling indicator of the government’s paranoia over a greatly increased pool of independent candidates, even given the near powerlessness of the congresses…

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