Village poll nothing new, says party chief
Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang yesterday played down the significance of the weekend's village committee election in Wukan, denying it was a political novelty and saying it was simply carried out according to existing mainland law.
'Factually speaking, Wukan's election was carried out in accordance with [the national] village committee's organisation law and Guangdong's provincial village committee election law,' he said after a panel discussion with a Guangdong delegation in Beijing yesterday.
'There is nothing new and [we] merely fully implemented what's already on the books. This allows [Wukan] to correct past mistakes [made in other] elections, that's all.'
The fishing village in Guangdong has been hailed by overseas media and mainland internet users as a pioneer of grass-roots democracy on the mainland. But Wang said it had nothing to do with political reform.
Wang also defended his decision to send a high-profile task force to the restive village - widely seen as a conciliatory gesture to defuse longstanding tension between villagers and local authorities over land grabs.
But Wang said his deputy, Zhu Mingguo , was sent to negotiate with Wukan village representatives only because the government wanted to take the opportunity to get more experience in promoting grass-roots elections.
Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a Hong Kong commentator, said Wang had adopted a safe approach in the run-up to the leadership reshuffle expected at the Communist Party congress this autumn. 'If he plays up Wukan's election as an innovative gesture, he will be making one of the worst political mistakes, like [Chongqing party chief] Bo Xilai, who was deemed to be breaking China's political ethics by playing up the local government,' Lau said.
Observers say Wang, a closely watched political star tipped for promotion to the party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee this autumn, turned the Wukan crisis into a political gain by adopting a liberal approach to defusing local tensions.
Professor Guo Weiqing, from Sun Yat-sen University's school of government, said Wang was right to say 'there was nothing innovative legally about Wukan's election'
But he said Wukan should be recognised for its efforts to implement the legal requirements for village elections by fairly selecting an electoral committee as well as a villagers' representative committee.
Wukan wrapped up its election of a seven-member village committee at the weekend. The villagers now face the challenge of getting their stolen land back.
They began months of defiance in September, at one stage driving out police trying to stop their protests.
Provincial leaders intervened in December after the death of a protest leader in custody.
Villagers were allowed to stage elections after the previous village governing body was dissolved.