Wukan elects 109 village representatives

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 February, 2012, 12:00am


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More than 6,600 residents of Wukan cast their ballots yesterday in the second round of voting for villagers to represent them.

The 109 representatives elected will play a critical role in negotiating with authorities over 1,700 hectares of collectively owned land villagers say corrupt officials sold secretly.

Villagers in the remote fishing and farming community near Lufeng in eastern Guandong - who have been in an often tense stand-off with authorities for months over the land grabs - held their first vote, for a temporary committee to oversee the electoral process, on February 1.

Early next month, the villagers will vote a third time, for a seven-member village committee responsible for the governance of the village.

Yesterday's election at Wukan Primary School appeared more organised, and 6,676 voters (84.3 per cent of those registered) turned out, almost the same proportion as the first time.

The school playground served as the polling station. Villagers voted in seven neighbourhood constituencies. Each neighbourhood elected representatives in proportion to its population.

The 109 representatives will handle land disputes and manage village assets.

While the electoral process might appear complicated to people with little experience of voting, Lin Jianmei - 82 and illiterate, who arrived at the polling station with her 77-year-old friend Yu Miao early in the morning - was unfazed.

'I have four candidates in mind, but I'm not telling who they are. Just like last time, my daughter-in-law will write the names for me on my ballots, as I can't read and write,' Lin said.

'I've never voted in my life until recently. Elections are a good thing, because we can get our land back.'

Zhu Zhuxi , 28, said Wukan's stand had now been imprinted in the hearts of government officials, who would think twice before 'messing with' the villagers.

'At first we were afraid, and the outlook was gloomy, but now we are a unified group that no government can neglect,' Zhu said.

'The people's power will be a good model for Lufeng, Guangdong or even the rest of China.'

Yang Semao, the chairman of the Wukan election committee, said he would like to see measures to improve voter confidentiality in the next election, such as more booths for villagers to fill in their ballots in secret, but he was happy with the way the second poll had been conducted.

'This time, the election set-up was more organised and strict, but I can't understand why the government would impose such a heavy control on media,' Yang said.

Zhang Jiancheng , 26, who was elected as a village representative yesterday, said he was confident the contested land would be returned. 'We have evidence of all the illegal land transfers. We will do our best to fight for the villagers' collective land rights and won't let them down,' Zhang said.

Village-level polls have been carried out on the mainland for years, but analysts say the situation in Wukan is unique, as there was no sign of manipulation in the nominations, and every adult resident can vote.

Xiong Wei , a Beijing-based lobbyist for parliamentary democracy, was in the village yesterday and said this election was unusual.

'Elections of villager representatives are common, but many of the candidates are arranged or appointed,' Xiong said. 'What's happening here in Wukan is rare.'

The unrest in Wukan began in September with petitions, demonstrations and brief occupations of local government buildings, which sparked a tough official crackdown.

Tensions reached boiling point in December after a protest leader, Xue Jinbo, 42, died in police custody. The village was locked down by authorities, but a peace accord was reached just before Christmas, and the Guangdong government promised a thorough investigation.

Xue Jianwan , the daughter of the dead protest leader, was elected a village representative yesterday, receiving the highest number of votes in her neighbourhood.