Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Prototype election?

Protests led to promises of investigations and reforms. Is this election real change or, in Russian terms, merely a Potemkin Village?

Residents Vote in Chinese Village at Center of Protest
Less than two months after staging a bold protest against official corruption and chasing away their local leaders, thousands of people in the southern Chinese village of Wukan did something many had once thought unimaginable: they cast their first ostensibly independent votes…

The voting in Wukan for an 11-member electoral committee marked the peaceful denouement of a revolt that had drawn heavily armed security personnel, and a large contingent of foreign reporters…

The 11-day confrontation was defused in late December after senior Communist Party officials from the provincial capital reached an agreement with Wukan’s self-appointed leaders, promising free elections and an investigation into the questionable real estate deals…

The newspaper People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the party, upheld the resolution as a potential model for officials managing the tensions — and distrust — that plague villages across China…

The election on Wednesday by Wukan’s 4,000 voters was for an election committee that will be charged with overseeing another ballot on March 1 to determine the village leadership.

Although some analysts have described the Wukan election as a watershed moment that could influence other villages in rural China others were skeptical about the long-term prospects for democracy given the Communist Party’s undiluted hold on power.

Local elections for the committees that manage sanitation, social welfare and other daily matters in thousands of Chinese villages are not new in China, but they are generally viewed as flawed. Party officials often determine who ends up on the ballot or stage-manage the voting. Once elected, committee members can be easily swayed by the money that readily flows from township and county-level party offices.

Li Fan, an election expert at the World and China Institute in Beijing, thought the best one could hope for was an uncompromised election in Wukan. “It should be better given that all the media is watching,” he said. “If it is a good election, that will be unusual for China.”…

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