Chinese Who Ousted Village Leaders Head To Polls

By Salon Staff

Published March 3, 2012 4:36AM (EST)

WUKAN, China (AP) — Villagers who staged a rebellion against local leaders they accused of stealing their farm land voted for a new leadership Saturday in a much-watched poll reformers hope will set a standard for resolving the protracted disputes that beset China.

Huang Jinqi was among the several thousand locals in this small fishing village in southern Guangdong province to fill in a ballot for the seven-member village committee and drop the pink paper into metal boxes set up in the town center.

The 63-year-old farmer said the process was going smoothly and he was satisfied with how it had been organized.

"It is open and transparent," he said.

China has allowed village elections for nearly three decades but local Communist Party leaders — the real power-holders — often try to manipulate the results. By those standards, Wukan is conducting what seems to be one of China's freest polls.

"Hopefully local authorities in other places of Guangdong and even other provinces will refer to Wukan as a precedent when they face similar situations," said Li Lianjiang, an expert on China's local elections and protests at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Tens of thousands of protests occur in China each year, many of them compounded by indifferent if not corrupt local officials. As in many villages, Wukan's troubles arose over land. Villagers said the local head, in power for decades, sold their farmland to developers without their consent.

Protests flared last year, with villagers smashing a police station and cars. After key village activists were detained in December, villagers drove out officials and barricaded themselves in for 10 days, keeping police out and holding boisterous rallies.

Unlike similar standoffs in China that often end in arrests, the provincial government conceded. It offered to stage the new elections, return some of the disputed farmland and release the detained activists, as well as the body of one who died in detention.

Salon Staff

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