Officials Discourage and Prevent "Independent Candidates" From Getting on Official Ballots in Local People's Congress Elections

December 23, 2011

During the latest round of local people's congress elections taking place in staggered fashion across China from May 2011 to December 2012, central and local officials are discouraging and preventing potential "independent candidates," i.e., candidates nominated by citizens rather than by the Party or by state-affiliated organizations, from getting on official ballots. Citizens are allowed to vote for people's congress delegates only at the lowest levels. Some developments during candidate nomination processes in this latest round do not seem to reflect the spirit of the national election law, highlight contradictions in the national election law, and illustrate continuing challenges to free and fair elections in China. Some local officials reportedly have arrested, detained, and monitored potential "independent candidates," as well as pressured their families, employers, and nominators, and obstructed nomination processes.

Background on Candidate Nomination Processes
The PRC Election Law of the National People's Congress and Local People's Congresses (Election Law) provides for direct citizen elections of people's congresses at the lowest levels, such as in urban districts, rural counties, townships, towns, and small cities (that are not further subdivided) (Article 2). The most recent round of these elections began in May 2011 and will end in December 2012 (Radio Free Asia [RFA], 8 November 11). Any citizen over the age of 18, irrespective of ethnicity, gender, occupation, or religious beliefs, in theory may vote or be elected, unless stripped of political rights (Article 3). However, to become a formal candidate, one must be both nominated and appear on a final ballot that has been vetted by the local election committee, which is led by the local people's congress (Articles 8, 10, 29, and 31). A potential candidate may be nominated by either a political party, delegates from the local people's congress, a "people's organization," such as the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, or by 10 or more ordinary citizens, i.e., "voter nominated" candidates (Article 29). "Voter nominated" candidates are often unofficially referred to as "independent candidates." In some cases, where the number of nominees per open positions exceeds a proscribed ratio, the local election committee should initiate group discussions by "voter groups" and determine the list of candidates based on the majority opinion. If a consensus cannot be reached, the committee will hold a primary election (Article 31).

According to U.S.-based scholar Melanie Manion in her testimony at a May 2009 CECC roundtable on democratic reforms in China, in past election cycles, there were often large numbers of "independent candidates" in the early stages of election activities. By the time election day arrived, however, most such candidates reportedly were winnowed out. There were few "independent candidates" in the most recent round of elections in Beijing, in which 21,760 formal candidates competed to fill 14,290 vacancies, and official figures reportedly indicated only 50-some "independent candidates" among the formal candidates (Mingbao via, 9 November 11 and RFA, 8 November 11). An international non-governmental organization tracked 60 "independent candidates" in the Beijing elections but none of these citizens were among the formal candidates (Chinese Human Rights Defenders [CHRD], 6 November 11, via Blogspot).

Central and Local Authorities Discourage or Prevent "Independent Candidates"
Some national-level Communist Party-affiliated newspapers warned of the dangers of including "independent candidates" in elections, including two editorials in the Global Times, after blogger and writer Li Chengping declared his candidacy in May 2011 and gained more than 2.9 million followers on the Internet (Global Times, 30 May 11). The May 30 Chinese and English Global Times editorials noted that "independent candidates" could play a positive role, but also asserted that it was not suitable to allow candidates who held opinions different from those of the "current political system" to run; and that such candidates would bring "even more turbulence, threatening the cohesion of the nation." In this round of elections, local officials have employed various tactics at each stage of the pre-election process to block "independent candidates," as described below.

(1) Arrests, Detentions, and Monitoring of Potential Candidates
Local officials in Henan and Guizhou provinces and Beijing municipality prevented potential "independent candidates" from getting nominated or from assuming office in a variety of ways, including arresting or detaining them or holding them under "soft detention." Below are a few examples of such actions.

  • Officials in Shangcheng county, Henan province arrested popular farmer leader Hong Maoxuan on August 4, 2011, on the suspicion of "obstructing official business," for an incident that occurred 10 years prior, reportedly to prevent him from running in the local election (CHRD, 6 September 11 and 1 September 11, via Blogspot). In that incident, he and other villagers protested against official corruption. At the time, officials did not detain him.
  • Authorities in Beijing have taken various potential candidates on "vacation" to tourist resorts outside of the city and prevented some from communicating with others (RFA, 21 October 11). Guizhou officials took similar actions, including detaining Chen Xi from October 19 to October 25, during which time the deadline for accepting candidate nominations passed (CHRD, 9 November 11, 25 October 11, and 6 November 11 via Blogspot, and 2 November 11). Authorities reportedly arrested Chen Xi on November 29, on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power." Officials reportedly cited Chen’s writings promoting human rights and democracy as reasons for the charge (CHRD, 21 December 11).

(2) Authorities Discriminate and Manipulate Candidate Lists and Nomination Processes
Authorities in several provinces across China utilized various methods to interfere in or manipulate nomination processes and official candidate lists, including engaging in discriminatory actions, refusing to provide, accept, or validate nomination forms, and requiring nominees to visit election offices in person to make their nomination, as detailed below.

  • A local election committee in Guangzhou municipality, Guangdong province, disallowed Liang Shuxin, a Party member and Internet forum executive at Tianya, from becoming a candidate because the committee announced they wanted a female worker who was not a Party member as a candidate. The committee later removed the restriction, but Liang Shuxin was not included on the ballot (New York Times, 31 October 11). This example illustrates that language regarding congresses being "broadly representative" in Article 6 of the Election Law may be flexible enough to allow officials to disallow a nomination based on an individual's ethnicity, gender, or occupation. This language seems to contradict language in Article 3 stating anyone with political rights over the age of 18 may run in an election.
  • In the cases of two Beijing professors, one received thousands of nominations and another received hundreds, but they were unable to become official candidates because their employers either refused to accept their nomination forms or determined their nominators were invalid (CHRD, 31 October 11, via Blogspot).
  • Officials in Acheng District, Harbin city, Heilongjiang province, told one potential “independent candidate” that no more than 10 nominators must come in person to the election office at a specified time with their household registration, national identity cards, and employer identification cards to make their nominations, according to the October 31 CHRD article.

(3) Authorities Pressure Potential Candidates, Their Families, Employers, and Nominators
Officials in Sichuan province, Shanghai, and Beijing pressured "independent candidates," as well as their families, employers, and nominators to prevent the potential candidate from getting onto the formal ballot.

  • Officials in Qingyang district, Chengdu city, Sichuan province, threatened and started following the mother of Li Shuangde when he posted an article on the Internet explaining why he wanted to run for the local people's congress (CHRD, 19 November 11, via Blogspot). In addition, the son of Sichuan-based author Li Chengpeng lost a company’s financial support for his tennis playing after Li declared his intent to run in local people's congress elections in Wuhou district, Chengdu, according to the October 31 CHRD article.
  • After Shanghai writer and business executive Xia Shang declared his candidacy for Shanghai Jing'an District National People's Congress representative, he was not only forced to participate in official "consultations," but his company was ordered to undergo a special inspection. Due to governmental pressure, Xia chose to drop out of the elections, according to the October 31 CHRD article.
  • In late October 2011, those responsible for elections at the Beijing Foreign Language University obstructed the official nomination of professor Qiao Mu by various means: telling some student nominators to switch their nominations, threatening some students with "thought work" if Qiao received over 10 nominations, and threatening to prevent students from joining the Communist Party if Qiao were to become an official candidate, according to the October 31 CHRD article.

(4) Authorities Censor News of "Independent Candidates" and Interfere in Election Education Activities
Reports indicate that officials censored news of "independent candidates" and interfered with their election education activities.

  • Beijing officials reportedly gave an order to propaganda authorities on September 26, 2011, to censor news of independent candidates (New York Times, 31 October 11).
  • Officials reportedly posted election signs and lists of candidates in concealed locations, such as on the back of a boiler or in a backstreet alley. They also reportedly tore down election signs (CHRD, 14 December 11), deleted election-related microblog and other online postings, and suspended some potential candidates' microblog accounts (CHRD, 31 October 11, 5 November 11, via Blogspot; RFA, 7 November 11; and Voice Of America, 8 November 11).
  • Authorities pressured organizers to cancel election education meetings or have attempted to prevent the public from attending them (CHRD, 2 October 11, via Blogspot).

For more information on local people's congress elections and "independent candidates," see Section III—Institutions of Democratic Governance in the CECC 2011 Annual Report.