Henan Villagers Hold Wukan Style Land Grabs Protest
« Return our land, return our voting rights, establish an autonomous village federation! »
Shouts from more than 100 people in Maoxue Village in China’s Henan Province, as they marched to local government offices on January 27th. They were protesting land grabs by local officials and calling for voting rights.
« That land is ours. We had a contract earlier but it expired. Once the contract ended it should have been returned to us, but we didn’t get the land back. When we reacted, no one helped us, everyone from the county to the village is the same, and they don’t deal with it. »
This man is referring to 12 acres of land that should have been returned to villagers. They say local officials manipulated the village for too long. One man, Gao Qilin, served as the local Party Secretary for 20 years, and has now handed over the position to his son.
« We have started to feel that we will never again keep our mouths shut, so we have started to speak. You know, the life of peasants is very bitter. You cannot find anyone who will listen to you anywhere. We want an election, or at least, we want the right to speak. We already have that right don’t we? »
In a move reminiscent of the Wukan protests at the end of last year, the villagers in Gushi County have set up several village councils.
[Zhou Decai, Village Representative]:
« If they don’t give back what should belong to the villagers, more than ten village councils of Gushi County will react together. Its scope will definitely be bigger than Wukan. »
Wukan was the only village to have temporarily freed itself of Chinese Communist Party control since 1949. After villagers kicked out all Communist officials and police they kept authorities out for two weeks, until their demands were met.
Leur presse (NTD Television, 31 janvier 2012)
Wukan protest village goes to polls
Villagers in the Chinese protest village of Wukan have voted in elections in what could be a model for future reform in China.
For the thousands who gathered on a warm sunny day in Wukan it was the first time they had ever seen a ballot paper.
Until now, this southern Chinese fishing village has chosen its leaders behind closed doors, allowing a small elite to rule for decades, and, the villagers complained, hugely enrich themselves.
Then, last month, the village rose up, threw out the local Communist party and withstood a police siege.
Now Wukan is being held up as a model for how China can reform the often corrupt village governance that has been a major cause of unrest in recent years.
The local Communist party may even be using Wukan as a pilot case: the village’s leaders said it had footed « most of » a 300,000 yuan (£30,000) bill to hold three sets of elections.
The first poll took place on Wednesday, in the village school, and, despite a small scuffle at the beginning over access for Hong Kong journalists, unfolded smoothly.
Orderly queues formed as villagers negotiated a complicated three-step voting procedure, designed to lend an air of gravitas to the proceedings.
The vote was to elect an eleven-man committee to organise the main election in March, but for most of the participants it was the symbolism of the event, rather than its purpose, that counted.
« We had to make a big thing, a big show, out of it to underline its importance and to guarantee that it was all fair and transparent, » said Yang Semao, one of the chief organisers.
« Wukan has been in the dark for so many years; its elections always manipulated. It is the first time we have done this so we want to do a good job, » he added. In the past few days, several academics and students have also arrived in Wukan, partly to observe the proceedings, and partly to offer advice to the villagers.
Large numbers of officials from the local government, including a contingent of police and a team of plain-clothes security officers, were on site and Mr Yang diplomatically praised them for helping to organise the event. While the village was excited about its day of democracy, it remains firmly loyal to the leadership of the Party.
« This is very meaningful, » said Chen Liangshan, 61, who used to work in one of the village’s temples. « I have already got the list of people I will vote for in my mind. I am glad to get the chance to choose people who will actually do something. This is the first time we have ever seen a ballot and we are excited about it. »
Mr Chen filled in his ballot, a sheet of A4 paper, at a table covered by a bright red tablecloth and deposited it in one of seven shiny aluminium ballot boxes. According to an official press release, he was one of 7688 eligible voters, with 1043 voting by proxy.
Another voter, 32-year-old Wang Huibing, said he hoped the new village administration would pay him the disability benefit that he has never yet been able to claim and would improve the village’s medical facilities. « We do not ask for much, and I am not sure what the outcome of this election will be, but I suppose it will be more fair and open. »
Meanwhile, Zhang Shuimei, 55, one of the 35 candidates in Wednesday’s vote, said he would work hard, if elected, to keep Wukan on a path to transparency and fairness.
« I have never seen a ballot until now, only government officials have had a say and they could appoint anyone they wanted without listening to anyone, » he said.
But, he warned, there was still much uncertainty in the village. « We do not know what benefits the elections will bring because the previous regime is still making great efforts to win over villagers to its side and that could be trouble. »
The village leaders said the results of the poll would be announced on Thursday, but that no celebration has yet been planned.
Leur presse (Malcolm Moore, telegraph.co.uk, 1er février 2012)