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Wukan's winding path to China's democratic reform

By Liang Saiyu, Wang Pan, Zhan Yijia (Xinhua)    20:16, April 01, 2014
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Lin Zulian, who has led Wukan since his election two years ago, has been reelected head of the village committee, in south China's Guangdong Province.

Lin, 68, was chosen as chief of the new village committee on Monday with 5,019 votes from more than 8,000 cast. Voters praised his selflessness and compassion during his previous two years of tenure.

Recognizing the trust and support of villagers, Lin described how the village has sought an end to its problems through negotiation and concession.

"We have learnt from the past two years that democracy only works out when it is stipulated by law. The new committee will be faithful to our populace and never give up in spite of difficulties," he said.

The village came into the international spotlight in 2011, when rallies and protests against corruption caught the world's attention, followed by a democratic election in 2012.

The latest elections on Monday and Tuesday are in the world's headlines again, with doubters convinced that continued corruption signals the failure of the villager's attempts to govern themselves. March of this year saw the exposure of yet more corruption, when deputy chiefs chosen in the second ballot Yang Semao and Hong Ruichao were detained by police accused of taking bribes.

Lin is extremely distressed by projects lying unfinished in his village due to corruption. "This village committee was elected by the villagers themselves, but some of the new committee repeated the mistakes of the previous committee, less than a year later. This is a cause for deep introspection," he said.

The scandals, Lin believes, have had a limited effect on the election. Problems, he said, must be exposed to avoid the same mistakes being made by the next leadership, and villagers have the right to know the truth.

DEMOCRATIC ELECTION

Wukan's latest election was by secret ballot with open, public counting of the votes. A total of 8,248 ballots were claimed at the polling station on Monday from a electorate of more than 9,000.

Lin was elected outright. The other committee members will be chosen in Tuesday's vote, as no other candidate claimed the required quota on Monday.

"The result is normal," said Huang Yongqing, a local voter.

Anyone above the age of 18 can vote and voting by proxy is permitted. On Monday, Wu Luping, 53, was entrusted by his family to cast a total of seven votes. Another villager voted on behalf of ten people, because he had documents giving him power of attorney.

"Without the documents, you cannot vote for others, including members of your family," Wu added.

Wu expects a "capable" village committee this time: "We can't believe that the second committee we elected in 2012 was also corrupt. The next committee should talk less and do more. Corruption must not rear its head again."

Huang Yongqing, who works in Shenzhen City, came 400 km to cast his vote: "Only through electing an unselfish leadership can the village keep on the right track."

Former deputy chief of the village committee Yang Semao, out on bail and awaiting his bribery trial, won more than 2,000 votes in the race to head up the new committee, far fewer than Lin. He also scored over 1,000 votes in his attempt to become deputy director, but has decided to give way to other candidates, claiming he needs "a bigger role" to display his true capability.

"I believe that the committee must take a hard line to hack through the thicket of problems that Wukan faces," he said.

Yang's aggressive approach is precisely what Lin Zulian disagrees with. Problems like land disputes are caused by a host of complex factors that cannot be solved in radical ways.

"When it comes to land disputes, for example, we need to take into account the opinions of other villages. This not only takes time, but requires compromise," Lin said.

DEVELOPMENT IN FOCUS

The fundamental issue facing the villagers is the retrieval of land which has been illegally taken from them, according to Zhang Jinshui, deputy secretary of the village's Communist Party of China committee.

"Development of the village relies largely on government financial support. Wukan's own economic activities are bogged down, partly thanks to persistent protests," said Zhang.

Over the past two years, villagers have taken back more than 5,000 mu (330 hectares) of land which was illegally taken from their control. Governments at provincial and city levels have earmarked tens of millions of yuan to improve village life. Beyond these government funds, the village has very little collective income.

Lin Zulian believes the future for Wukan is impossibly bleak, unless a sustainable solution which protects the interests of villagers can be guaranteed. He has pledged the new committee will retrieve lost land, but the real goal is to develop the village's own economy.

Villager Wu agrees that the new committee must put development on top of their agenda. There is a clear need for some property development and a large factory will be built in the village.

"Some said the enthusiasm of voters would cool down, but I disagree. I think Wukan has good prospects if the new leadership keeps their hands clean, and do their job," said Wu after casting his vote.

Xinhua correspondents Zhong Qun, Ma Xiaocheng also contributed to the story.

(Editor:GaoYinan、Yao Chun)

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