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Beijingers Get Greater Poll Choices

The democratic process in the Chinese capital is getting increasingly vibrant, with the participation of independent candidates in Beijing's district-level people's congress elections.

The independent candidates are nominated by groups of 10 or more voters, with the other candidates often being directly nominated by political parties or organizations.

Beijing has not seen independent candidates in grass-roots elections for more than two decades, said Huang Weiping, director of the Institute of Contemporary Chinese Political Research at Shenzhen University.

According to Huang, the participation of independent candidates in Beijing is a continuation of a process started in Shenzhen in south China's Guangdong Province.

Wang Liang, headmaster of the Shenzhen Advanced Vocational School, beat three other party-nominated opponents in the grass-roots legislature election on May 15, becoming the first candidate in Shenzhen to win an election without being nominated by any party or organization.

The 44-year-old Wang, who spent a year as a visiting scholar at the University of California in Los Angeles, said his victory was an outcome of the progress of democracy and rule of law in China.

The People's Daily newspaper said in August that allowing more people to recommend themselves as candidates would mobilize people to elect their own spokespersons, improve popular political participation and liven up both the electoral process and the day-to-day life of the people's congresses.

"I hope my participation in the election will help enhance democratic awareness among intellectuals and help make elections more competitive," said Xu Zhiyong, a 30-year-old lecturer at the Law Department of the School of Humanities Law and Economics at Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications.

The Chinese media are not unfamiliar with Xu.

Together with two other scholars with law doctorates, Xu submitted a written appeal to the National People's Congress, the nation's top legislature, to review the constitutionality of an administrative regulation on urban vagrant management after the brutal death of Sun Zhigang, a migrant worker in south China's Guangdong Province.

The State Council later abolished this two-decade-old regulation which allows police to detain people found without resident permits.

"If I am elected, I will do more things for the public, everything I can," Xu said. He now has specific plans on helping the government draw up better policies on household relocation plans and improving information service in Haidian District, where he lives and works.

Xu is not the only independent candidate in Beijing's colleges and universities. Six students, four from Peking University and two from Tsinghua University, have also issued campaign statements on their campus bulletin boards.

"Don't you care who the candidates are? I will strive hard to make you care," Yin Jun, a self-nominated candidate in Peking University, said in his online statement.

Xu said the result is not as important as the process, which indicates a kind of social progress. But he is happy to find that he has got his name on the ballot papers in his constituency.

The two independent student candidates in Tsinghua University and one in Peking University have also won official nomination. They will stand in the final vote on Wednesday.

These independent candidates in the universities have a strong aspiration for self-expression and they have given greater attention to the improvement of the democratic election system in this country through their own practice, according to Huang.

Huang said there is another category among the Beijing independent candidates. They belong to the newly emerged middle class who would like to safeguard their economic interests through elevating their political status.

Shu Kexin appears to be one of these. "Now that I've earned a certain amount of money, money has lost its importance. My interest now is how to supervise the people who say that they work for me," said Shu, head of the landlords' committee of Chaoyang Garden, a luxury residential compound in Beijing.

But Shu failed to get himself on the final list of candidates.

(China Daily December 8, 2003)

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