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China: Independent Candidates Busy Building Up Support

Carrying on from the incident in which three independent candidates for local level People's Congress elections in Jiangxi were prevented from taking part in their election, candidates from other areas around China have yet to enter election periods but face no shortage of problems of their own.

The candidacy wave remains small, but is still a top discussion topic online.

More prominent participants in the movement such as media workers Li Chengpeng and Yao ‘Wuyue Sanren’ Bo have become less vocal about their individual campaigns (Yao recently quietly announced his resignation from the China Daily newspaper, ostensibly to work on his campaign) in recent weeks. One candidate who has moved more into the limelight has been Hangzhou-based post-80s advertising agency employee and locally-known commentator on the real estate market, Xu Yan. The focus on Xu seems driven largely by his civics lesson approach to campaign preparation.

In early July, Xu began weekly posting of videos [zh] online in which he discusses in detail issues that he plans to address, if elected, as well as educating on topics such as division of powers in the current system and the particular responsibilities which come with the role of district-level People's Congress representative. As with most other independent candidates around China, Xu's been busy on Weibo, organizing volunteers, constituent meet-ups and answering questions.

One recent exchange Xu had on Weibo suggests that [zh] one of his immediate challenges will be in overcoming skepticism:

//@everyoneisfree1:如果徐彦真的得到了浙江省人大的支持,我建议大家人肉一下徐彦和政府部门的关系,99.99%的可能性是里面有猫腻。

If Xu Yan really ends up winning support from the Zhejiang Provincial People's Congress, I suggest that we run the human flesh search engine on him to find out if he has connections with any government department. I bet there's a 99.99% chance that something fishy is going on here.

哈哈,我跟政府当然有关系1、政府应是民众选举;2、财政是纳税人提供。另,人大不是政府,参选也不用得到人大的支持,是要得到选民支持。

Xu: Of course I have a connection with the government: 1) The government is supposed to be elected by the people; 2) Government finances are provided by taxpayers. What's more, the People's Congress is not the government, and one doesn't need support from the People's Congress to stand for a seat on it. What you need is the voters’ support.

//@everyoneisfree1:回复@人代参选人徐彦: 全国的独立候选人都遭到了打击,唯独你得到了人大的支持,这一点,你不要说什么官话套话,瞎子都能看见

Now you see a crackdown on all independent candidates across the country, but you're the only who's received support from the People's Congress. Save your slogans and officialese in addressing this point, anyone with eyes can see what's going on.

回复@everyoneisfree1:我是有后台,如果我做得好,选民就是我的后台。另外,选举不是看人大机构支持,而是选民支持。当然,欢迎你的质疑,也欢迎你调查。

Xu: As for my background support, I will have some, that being those who vote for me. Further, elections don't depend on support from People's Congress bodies. Of course, I welcome your doubts and encourage you to investigate.

Then on July 14, Xu came on Weibo with an update on his plans for an offline meet-and-greet with local voters:

【调整第一阶段选民集中拜访的安排】原计划7月16日起开始进行的选民集中拜访安排,调整为电话、邮件、微博私信等方式约定拜访时间、拜访方式后进行“一对一”拜访。详见下图,

The first meet and greet with voters has been rescheduled. The gathering originally scheduled for July 16 for me to meet with voters has been changed. It will now take place through phone calls, e-mails and private direct messages on Sina Weibo at the original time. Step two after this will be one-on-one meetings.

Xiamen-based independent candidate Yao Jincheng also had the idea to start meeting with local constituents and has said he will take his campaign to people's doors. Today, he merged a Q&A outside a coffee shop with an apparently aimless donation drive [zh] he organized on Weibo to collect local residents’ old and used clothing. Yao received a fair amount of clothing donations for his unspecified purpose, and the event went off without a hitch.

In Shanghai, businessman Xia Shang has not been so lucky. Xia wrote on Weibo that he was visited on July 12 by China's Ministry of State Security, and announced the following day that he was notified that two companies he runs, one in interior design services and the other selling Pu'er tea, have been randomly selected for a tax audit. Xia says his companies had no problem passing China's annual tax inspection, which concluded last month.

Also in the election prevention news, Li Chengpeng, mentioned above, has had Internet service to his home cut off since July 3, and continues to complain on Weibo that numerous daily calls to his service provider have had no effect. Reportedly, one netizen had their Taobao store shut down and was investigated by police after printing and selling this t-shirt with the independent election campaign's unofficial ‘One person, One vote, Changing China’ slogan:

In Jiangsu province, post-80s independent candidate He Peng has also been questioned by police—not due to his candidacy, he says, but for blog posts regarding local politics. He is among those considered by some to to more entertainment than serious would-be legislators. He's been more active on Weibo, promoting himself and trading one-liners with followers, than he has been in formulating a vision for his campaign. But He is also one of the few announced candidates to have made their own adverts. When challenged, he has brought forth his strong views on the current political system and democracy in general. One recent exchange touched on the fear which many share—not that the current regime will collapse, but one which still stretches back to the Cultural Revolution—that with any change to the current system comes the possibility that extremists will take over the country again:

田哞的微博 “体制、民主”是人民的政权,是人民的。谁要来反?坚决人肉他!(7月12日 17:28)

棍客 回复@田哞的微博:那倒不必。告诫我的人也许是出于好意。可他们也许忽略了“宪政民主”正是解决一切民生问题的根本。或者只将参选一事单纯理解为草根进入体制而可为平民发出呼声。实际上参选的最大意义在于告知大家,我们可以通过珍惜自己手中的一票,来逐步达成某种权利上的平衡。西瓜与芝麻的道理。(7月12日 21:41)

“A democratic system is a people's regime, it belongs to the people. Whoever disagrees will be ‘human fleshed’ immediately!” 

He: Well, there's no need for that. The people who warn me about the dangers involved probably mean well. But they may also have overlooked the fact that “constitutional democracy” is at the center of resolving people's livelihood issues. Either that or their understanding of the civic participation in elections trend is simply that the grassroots are gaining a voice for the common person by becoming part of the system. In fact, the greatest significance in taking part in the elections is that it tells people that by valuing the votes which we hold in our hands, we can gradually bring some balance to certain interests. It's like the sesame seed vs. the watermelon.

He, however, seems OK with the idea of a change in the political system. From another exchange:

作为一个基层人代参选人谈“体制、民主”是对本身定位不清,你应该做的是调研并解决选区民众关心的问题。

——在我看来这完全是舍本逐末。当下中国没有什么比“体制、民主”问题更严重的伤害我选区人民的利益。另任何人也都有资格和必要谈论“体制、民主”问题,无论他是否参选人代。

“As a grassroots candidate in a people's congress elections, talking about the current system and democracy reflects the lack of a clear understanding of your own status. What you should instead be doing is looking into and resolving the issues that those in your constituent district worry about.” 

He: To me, this would mean completely ignoring the purpose of being elected and focusing on the trivial. In today's China, there isn't a single bigger threat to the interests of my district's voters than problems with the system and democracy. Everyone has both the qualification and the obligation to talk about the system and democracy, regardless of whether or not they're seeking to be elected as a representative.

Commenting on He's campaign ad (left), one reader makes the perennial claim that people just aren't civilized enough to handle things like freedom, human rights or democracy without sending the country down the toilet. He replies:

回复@清风入帘:有时候,乱也未必是一件坏事。如台湾的乱,为了选票或观点政客打架公民看戏、即使总统贪腐也得关进监狱等,大约在很多大陆人眼里已经“乱”得不成“体统”了,但其公民社会保障体系是大陆任何城市都无法相比的。

可大多数人并不会有这样的见识。所以就需要不停的重复常识,告诉那些笑话台湾议会打架的人:打架是伤害不到普通公民的,相反可能为他们带来好处,因为打架者只有更多考虑公民权益才被认可。而举手和睡觉却绝达不到这样的效果。政客的面子跟我们无关,政客的政绩我们却得验收。

In some cases, disorder isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you look at how it gets in Taiwan, politicians fight over votes or different views and the public watches the show, but then even their President can go to prison over corruption. In the eyes of many Mainlanders, things there are out of control; however, there isn't a city on the Mainland which can compare to Taiwan's civil society or welfare system.

And down in Guangdong province, where declared candidates include high school and university students and lawyers, Shenzhen-based lawyer Li Zhiyong's (left) approach has been to merge canvassing with his lawyer work. Last weekend, at an outdoor legal advice clinic, Li found himself in trouble after using the venue to discuss his politics:

在为社区居民提供法律咨询的时候,宣传了选举法律知识,告知居民我准备参选区人大代表。社区工作站领导说不可以告诉居民自己参选的事。不再为我服务居民提供方便。OK.以专业服务居民,还是我的宗旨。我将继续通过各种方式为居民提供公益法律服务。

While giving legal advice to neighborhood residents, I took the opportunity to share legal knowledge regarding taking part in a people's congress election, as well as to tell people that I'm preparing to stand in the district people's congress election. The director of the social work station said I'm not allowed to tell residents about my own candidacy. I'm also no longer welcome there to offer my services to other residents. OK then. To serve residents with professionalism, that's my operating principle. I will, however, continue to offer pro bono legal advice to residents through all other available means.

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