Rain-drenched voters in Wukan returned to the polls yesterday in a ballot clouded by signs authorities are reasserting their power.
The Guangdong village grabbed headlines worldwide in 2011 when locals staged huge protests and drove out Communist Party officials they accused of illegal land grabs and the death of a detained local villager. Months later, protest leaders swept to power in a local election free from influence by the higher level Communist Party committee.
The election was to decide the head and six other members of the village committee. Incumbent Lin Zuluan was re-elected as chief with 5,019 votes, representing more than half of some 9,000 eligible voters. Lin's former deputy turned challenger, Yang Semao , received 2,268 votes.
Residents will cast ballots again today to decide the six remaining committee members, as none of the candidates received the required 50 per cent of votes.
For several months villagers have been accusing the local Communist Party committee of reasserting its influence and trying to sabotage the election.
Last month Yang, a protest leader, was detained for alleged bribery, but was bailed out to help organise the voting.
The following week, Hong Ruichao, another key figure behind the grass-roots movement, was placed under criminal investigation on suspicion of pocketing funds from public projects. Village committee member Zhuang Liehong fled to the United States to seek asylum earlier this year, in what he said was an attempt to avoid arrest.
Lin said after yesterday's polling: "I will give the village party committee a bigger role in village affairs. We should not kick them out just because they are former officials. … If they correct their mistakes, we should give them another chance."
Yang, who started openly criticising Lin's leadership months ago, said he wouldn't join the new village committee. "I will not join as deputy village chief because I can do nothing for the villagers in that position."
The rain affected voter turnout - with media saying no more than 3,000 people showed up on voting day, while other ballots were cast by proxy.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters