(Updates with professor’s comments in fourth paragraph.)
Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Residents in the southern Chinese village of Wukan chose a committee yesterday to oversee independent elections, a process that Communist Party officials agreed to after protests ousted previous local leaders.
More than 6,000 of Wukan’s 12,000 villagers voted for an independent committee that will supervise elections for a new village leadership, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing local Communist Party chief Lin Zulian. The final vote count was completed at 11 p.m. local time yesterday, the Beijing News reported.
Authorities agreed to cancel an earlier election after allegations of fraud that, along with disputed land sales and the death of a local man in police custody, sparked a two-week protest in the fishing village in southern China’s Guangdong province. Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged to better protect farmers’ land rights and said people should be allowed to criticize their leaders as the Communist Party seeks to reduce unrest that could erode its power.
“If this kind of election can be spread to the whole of Guangdong province and finally nationwide, that would imply hope for democratic elections at the grass-roots level,” said Hu Xingdou, a professor of economics at the Beijing Institute of Technology. “If it can’t be spread to the whole province or nationwide, then the situation of China’s rotting grass roots will continue.”
Authorities in December blockaded Wukan for two weeks after residents kicked out local officials and then prevented police from entering the village. A resolution to the standoff was reached after Zhu Mingguo, Guangdong’s deputy Communist Party secretary, meet with protest leaders and agreed to what he called the residents’ “reasonable” demands.
Lin, who had helped lead the demonstrations, was named Wukan’s party secretary after the dispute was settled.
A later investigation of the elections held in Wukan in February found that the candidate list had been kept secret and that some of those overseeing the vote were also seeking office. China first implemented direct elections at the village level in the 1980s as part of Deng Xiaoping’s campaign of reform and development.
In yesterday’s vote, villagers in Wukan picked 10 men and one woman for the election committee, Beijing News said. Those chosen won’t be allowed to run in the leadership elections, Xinhua said.
-- Regina Tan in Beijing. Editors: John Liu, Paul Tighe
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