Chinese village experiments with democracy

Residents of Wukan voted for over 100 representatives who will put forward candidates for a village committee to be elected later.

Shanghai: A Chinese village which staged an extraordinary rebellion against authorities last year has taken a key step in a process to freely elect its own governing committee, residents said on Sunday.

Thousands of residents of Wukan in the southern province of Guangdong voted on Saturday for more than 100 representatives who will put forward candidates for a seven-member village committee to be elected in March, they said.

The move followed protests by the village last December when they faced off with authorities for more than a week in an uproar over land grabs.

The demonstrations prompted a drawn-out stand-off with police and officials, but the Guangdong provincial government eventually capitulated and sought to pacify the villagers as their case made headlines.

The rare concessions included pledges to support free village polls.

Wukan residents said their former leaders had never before allowed these polls to go ahead in an open fashion, and instead selected members of the village committee behind closed doors.

Saturday`s election of village representatives was reported by the official Xinhua news agency, showing the exercise in democracy is taking place with the blessing of authorities.

"The village representatives will suggest a list of candidates and all villagers have the right to vote for the village committee," Yang Yinqiao, who is helping oversee the process, said.

China -- a one-party state where top leaders are not elected by the people -- does allow rural residents across the country to vote for committees to represent them in what are known as "village elections".

Hong Ruiqing, one of the 107 newly elected village representatives, said the job included communicating with people.

"We work with the people to get tasks done," she said.

Observers say the representatives also function as ombudsmen, fielding complaints from residents. Village committees, which aim to give people a say in government, are still ultimately beholden to the ruling communist party.


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