Wukan Village Elections: Advent of Democracy?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 6, 2012
Summary: How will the popularly elected Wukan Village Committee perform? Will the "Wukan Experience" enable the implementation of village and street-level election reform elsewhere on the Mainland? We should not expect larger scale democratic reforms for the time being. Is Beijing is willing to permit a single village to implement democracy first? If it is, then it has already begun in Wukan Village.
Full Text below:
Wukan Village, a seaside fishing village in Lufeng City, Guangdong Province, has just held a village by-election. Only 8373 voters registered for the election. Only 6899 ballots were issued. Nevertheless everyone has attached great importance to this election. Beijing sent officials to monitor the proceedings. Officials from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou showed up, accompanied by translators. Mainland politicians and academics, reporters from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao, reporters from AFP and other European and American media companies all followed the election closely. Everyone is waiting to see whether this local election will be the catalyst that introduces democratic reforms to the Chinese Mainland.
The election originated with the Wukan Incident in September last year. Prior to last September, not a single election had been held in Wukan Village for 60 years. The Village Committee was selling off the village commons at below market value. On the books, each villager was credited 6000 RMB. But Lin Zhuluan, the leader of the protest said "We never saw a single cent of the money." The villagers said the government's operations were opaque. They suspected those in charge of corruption. They surrounded the government offices and police station, and staged angry protests. One Village Committe Member died while in police custody. The protest became a domestic and international media event. The situation spiraled out of control. The result was the Village Committee By-election.
The Wukan Village By-election involved several phases. It began on February 1st. Villagers elected 11 members to the Wukan Village Election Committee. They were charged with setting up the election. On February 12th villagers elected 109 Village Representatives and seven Village Group Leaders. On March 3rd they elected one Village Committee Chief and one Deputy Chief. On March 4th they held a second round of elections, They elected one Deputy Chief and four Village Committee Members. These elections were all direct elections. The candidates were not determined in advance. Villagers were all free to register as candidates. The most noteworthy fact was that Lin Zulian, Yang Semao, Hong Ruichao, the leaders of the Wukan Incident, were elected and became part of the system. They became the new leaders of Wukan Village.
In the past, Lin Zulian would have wound up in prison. He would never have been permitted to stand for election and be elected Village Committee Chief. Natural leaders generated by public opinion became government leaders. This is the basis for democratic elections. The Wukan Village Elections have attracted world wide attention, This is the reason why.
Wukan villagers cast their ballots for the first time in six decades, Was this merely a stop-gap measure for Beijing. Was it merely a response to the Wukan Incident? Or will this become a model for local self-government and political reform for the Mainland as a whole? Commentators have noted the Chinese Communist Party's inertia while governing the Mainland. They think it is naive to think that Wukan equals the beginning of political reform. Mainland China is vast. Its situation is complicated. This village is a special case. How can it serve as a template for the entire nation? That said, the public wants to combat corruption, restore the rule of law, and enjoy self-governance. The Wukan Election is an experiment that could serve as a template.
First, consider combatting corruption. The biggest defect in the Mainland political system is its lack of self-correcting mechanisms. The Wukan Village Committee failed to hold elections for six decades. Former Village Committee Chief Xue Chang clung to office for 41 years. Eventually opaque land sales led to suspicion and rebellion. The system lacked self-correcting mechanisms. Clashes between officials and the public were inevitable. The election system will facilitate error correction and increase accountability.
Next, Mainland law requires periodic village and street level elections and meetings. But these have never been honored. This has enabled the party and government bureaucracy to rule according by its whim, while citing efficiency as a pretext, This has weakened public enthusiasm for the political process. The bureaucracy failed to respond to public grievances. Discontent accumulated, then exploded. The result was a major media event. Cleaning up in the aftermath will be costly. Wukan Village has restored the rule of law. It has held direct elections. When village officials conduct land sales in the future, higher level agencies will help address any problems that may arise. This should reduce friction between the government and the public.
Third, local self-government enhances civil rights within the legal system. It enables individuals to fulfill their potential. Wukan villagers were interviewed after voting. One said "I never voted before in my life. This time I did. I voted for someone I liked. It was good." A couplet posted at the entrance to the Wukan Temple read: "We wear smiles. Tiny towns and villages enjoy autonomy. Spring has returned to Wukan. One man, one vote has determined our future." This sentiments in this couplet sum up the huge debt the Chinese Communist regime owes the public.
The Wukan Election was merely a "bird in a cage" election. The balloting system, including the provision for secret ballots, still need improvement. But it upheld civil rights, promoted reform, and fought corruption. It stabilized society. It was a welcome showcase and experiment. Deng Xiaoping said: "Allow some people to get rich first." Are the Beijing authorities bold enough to "Allow some regions to implement democracy first?"
How will the popularly elected Wukan Village Committee perform? Will the "Wukan Experience" enable the implementation of village and street-level election reform elsewhere on the Mainland? We should not expect larger scale democratic reforms for the time being. Is Beijing is willing to permit a single village to implement democracy first? If it is, then it has already begun in Wukan Village.