Residents of the Guangdong village of Wukan, who led protests late last year against local authorities over farmland grabbing and corruption, took a key step toward democracy earlier this month with freely-held elections of their village leaders.
More than 6,000 Wukan residents cast votes in a February 11 election for new village representatives, the second of a three-part process which began February 1 with the election of an independent election oversight committee. Phase three, set for March 1, will see the election of a new village committee which will remain under the supervision of the 107 representatives elected in phase two, among whom is the daughter of the village's deceased former representative Xue Jinbo.
Xiong Wei, founder of the Beijing New Enlightenment Research Centre and a researcher at Peking University, explained the election on Sina Weibo:
A new democratic generation in China
This grassroots-level election experiment has become an important symbol representing a new kind of democracy in China, called even by some as a new rural democracy movement. One observer of Wukan's election has recorded some thoughts on his blog from Lin Zulian, a local organizer and newly-elected village representative:
Prominent public intellectuals have also described the Wukan election process as good news for China. One well-known commentator, Yuan Weidong, has written:
Election problems in the past
Yuan also summarizes the three main problems which have been present in elections in China for several decades:
On Sina Weibo, user Zhen Puhong has asked whether the Wukan elections in fact hold as much significance as many believe.
From the comments on Zhen's post, other Weibo users have written:
为人民币服务GOV：回复@清心9901:没有其他意思，我觉得什么叫村民自治，就应该脱离党的控制，因为不是你选的。否则，即使村长选了，还是没有实权，最后权力架空，选举就没有意义。 (2月9日 15:19)
疯头总动员：//@新启蒙熊伟: 是的，我和林先生经常讨论的就是权力互相制问题。 //@博格郑甫弘:民主选举中程序正义至关重要。领袖很重要，但民主保障的关键是不能让个人超越体制程序。有林祖銮乌坎村民是幸运的，换了人呢？
Wukan’s effect on Zhejiang
Wukan, having been allowed to elect its own leaders, may already be having the effect of encouraging other southern villages to copy the Wukan model.
In Zhejiang province, residents in both the east and west ends of Panhe village in the city of Wenzhou have apparently been inspired by the Wukan uprising to become a second village to have evicted local authorities. Panhe's 5,000 villagers have been protesting against illegal land requisition since February 1 following years of the government's “legal” selling off, without any advance notice, of parcels of their land. Reportedly, all farmland sold off by Panhe's village representatives since 2006 has brought zero compensation to the rightful owner farmers and villagers.
From discussions of Panhe on Sina Weibo:
Many protests happen in China every day.
For some insight into the official perspective on these democratic developments, Niu Wenyuan of China's State Council, is quoted as having said in a seminar held in Guangzhou earlier this month that:
【国务院参事牛文元：中国去年日均发生五百起群体事件】 http://t.cn/zOZ7Hbh “去年，广东发生了乌坎事件。实际上，2011年，中国平均每天发生500起群体性事件，这意味着，现今社会容易失序，民众心理容易失调”国务院参事牛文元在给干部讲座时，直言不讳。