Independently seeking votes

China’s twice-a-decade election season is underway and a number of high profile people are planning to run as independent candidates, if they get nominated.  

More than 2 million representatives to local and county people’s congresses will be elected during the nationwide elections which are being held from May to October. 

Journalists, writers, workers, accountants, college professors, and students, are among those who have announced online that they are filing papers in the hope of being put on the ballot as an independent candidate. 

China’s electoral law stipulates that people wanting to become candidates for congress deputy can be nominated by political parties, organizations or have the signed support of at least 10 registered voters in their constituency.  An electoral committee, which is supervised by incumbent deputies and sometimes seeks the opinions of constituents, then decides who will be allowed on the ballot. 

Among the more controversial potential candidates is Li Chengpeng, a well-known sports commentator, social critic and published writer.

An outspoken celebrity

Li has more than 3 million followers on Sina weibo, the Chinese version of twitter. He confirmed his intention to seek candidacy in May, leading an apparent wave of grassroots, independent candidates seeking to be nominated and later elected. 

“Many deputies are not doing their jobs and their proposals don’t reflect people’s needs. They only know how to raise their hands [in approval],” said Li. “I feel I understand China better than them.”  

Li, 43, is running for deputy to the people’s congress of Wuhou district in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, which represents more than a million residents. He’s confident that his name will be among those on the ballot and he’ll be elected by the people. 

A former sports journalist, Li has found himself in troubled waters many times for speaking up against rigged matches and corruption inside the football association. His outspokenness has garnered both supporters and critics. 

His latest novel centers on the forceful demolition of the characters’ home. He is also a judge on the popular TV talent shows “Super Boy” and “Happy Girl.”

Known as a controversial blogger, Li isn’t shy about expressing his opinions on a number of social issues. He’s also supported by a batch of celebrity advisors including film director Feng Xiaogang, writer Han Han and Professor Yu Jianrong.

Li says he’s been actively campaigning in his district, talking to people about their troubles and what they want to see improved. 

He’s made campaign promises that he intends to put forward if he’s elected. He’s also trying to persuade local companies to sponsor school buses for his district. 

“I have to succeed,” said Li. “Because it’s not just me campaigning. As a public figure, there are many eyes on me.”

Following procedures to the letter

Li is being very cautious at this stage of the process. “We can’t make any silly mistakes such as procedural errors,” he said. 

He’s referring to the mistake made by Liu Ping, a 47-year-old steel factory worker in Xinyu, Jiangxi Province. Liu announced he would seek the nomination as independent candidate to the people’s congress of Yushui district of Xinyu. Even though she had 17 supporters sign her nomination papers, the electoral committee turned her down after it discovered some of the signatories were not her constituents, reported Xinhua.  Liu had previously petitioned authorities in Beijing about a grievance she had with local officials.  

The technical setback suffered by Liu has made Li a student of the electoral law and the constitution. He insists that he will “dance inside the realm of the constitution and the existing legal framework.”

There are several other high-profile independent candidates. Wu Danhong, a professor from the China University of Political Science and Law, will run in Beijing’s Haidian district. Xiong Wei is an independent scholar and heads a grassroots think tank in Beijing. They have written on their microblogs that they will help push China’s democracy and rule of law. 

Confrontation doesn’t work 

Some of those seeking office have found that blaming social ills on the system is not always a good thing. 
“To pursue democracy in China, you not only need to speak up, but you also need to be ready to compromise when necessary,” said Sima Nan, a television pundit and blogger who was also an independent candidate in 2003.

Sima recalls that several independent candidates that year announced they would progressively pursue changes to the political system. None of them was elected, he said.

Some candidates are not really trying to improve the system; they’re only putting on a show, he said.  

“Some candidates are bringing a confrontational force into the system just to prove themselves, and that’s not necessarily a positive thing,” said Sima.

“Some candidate wannabes believe that just because they have lots of fans on weibo, they are qualified or entitled to lash out on anything they dislike,” said Sima. “These people are not suited for democracy.”

Of all the people who have announced online their decision to run as independents, 27-year-old Xu Yan may be the most organized. He has put all his personal contact information online, he has written several campaign announcements on his personal website and weibo, and detailed his plans for the next couple of months. 

Xu, who is a real estate agent and far from well-known, is trying to recruit a dozen or so volunteers to help with legal and public opinion research. “It’s easy to get lots of support online, but it’s difficult to actually find volunteers,” Xu told the Global Times. 

First independent elected in 1998

The current crop of potential candidates won’t include the first to run as an independent. Yao Lifa, a teacher in Qianjiang, Hubei Province, was the first non-affiliated candidate to be elected to a local people’s congress in 1998. He campaigned for the post in the 1980s. 

As a deputy Yao rarely cooperated with the old-guard in his congress and objected to almost every issue brought up during the legislative meetings. His motions were constantly defeated, reported Nanfengchuang Magazine.

Yao ran again as independent candidate in the next election but was defeated at the polls. 

Nominations for most congresses haven’t yet closed, so few of the independent hopefuls have yet to pass the hurdle of actually becoming a candidate on the ballot.  

The nomination process in China starts with local people declaring their intention to become a candidate.  For independents this means filing papers indicating they have the backing of at least 10 local registered voters.

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