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Beijing's Independent Candidates

By Caitlin Coyle, an intern from American University in Washington. 

Anyone who was living on a university campus in Beijing a few weeks ago would have been accosted by election banners and lines of people waiting to cast a vote for the deputies of the local people’s congress. The local people’s congress is officially the body that represents people at the lowest level of government within China, and elections for members to the congress are considered by many of China's apathetic voters as nothing more than a minor irritation. However, the participation of "independent candidates" in this year's Beijing elections, who in some cases turned to social media and other more traditional forms of canvassing voters, has livened things up a little. The accounts that these candidate gave of the elections, encouraged us to take a closer look at how these elections actually work. 

According to the Beijing News, in Beijing, nearly 9 million people voted in the most recent election, boasting a near 90% turn out. An editorial in the EO, published a few weeks ago, when the elections were at their height, explained the process in detail. The local people’s congress members are elected by direct vote. These elections happen once every five years. The next level, the county, is indirect election by the deputies within the local congress. Most often, there are two official candidates on each ballot, followed by a “write-in” spot, in which one can write in anyone eligible to stand for election.

According to, a government sponsored news portal, the qualifications for those who have the right to vote are the same as the qualifications one must meet to stand for election. If one is over the age of 18 and a Beijing resident, they are both eligible to vote and stand for local election. Any voter or deputy with at least ten people supporting the proposal may recommend a candidate. Therefore, independent candidates are often referred to as “self-nominated” candidates. Anyone who has ever been charged or tried for being a threat to national security is ineligible, as are those who are under any investigation or in custody. While this seems fairly simple, behind the scenes is a bit more complicated.

There are a few blogs and weibo accounts from independent candidates that have had a backroom view of how the procedure works. All candidates go through a process with other candidates to get their names written on the ballot.  This doesn’t seem to follow a clear system. There are usually at least two rounds of selection before official candidates’ names are released. Candidates who are not given the “official” status are often not informed as to why they were not chosen. The election committees that choose the official candidates are often made up of local party members.

In Beijing there was only one “independent” candidate that made it onto the ballot. According to Caixin Blog, Xu Xiangyu, a retired woman from Beijing’s Daxing District, managed to get on the official ballot by running a low-key campaign without using social media. She was ultimately defeated in the election. She believes this was related to bribery and intimidation on voting day.

However, voters are still able to vote for these “non-official” candidates as well. Qiao Mu, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, ran a campaign through social media after failing to become an official candidate listed on the ballot. He obtained the second most votes in his district, receiving more votes than one of the official candidates. He wrote on his blog about another issue for independent candidates.  A week before the voting a day, all his forms of social media, including his blog and weibo account, were blocked. He also suspects that he was monitored in the week approaching the election, and many of his supporters reported intimidation tactics. 

According to a recent article in the Guardian, in Beijing, there were 4,350 seats to be filled on the local people’s congress this November. However it seems that many did not know who the candidates were, unless they were big names such as Fang Binxing, creator of the Great Firewall. Methods of choosing candidates then ranged from choosing randomly from the two listed official candidate, or writing the name of an independent candidate onto the ballot paper.

I had a conversation with two students at Beijing University who wished to remain anonymous. One of them mentioned that she thought one of her professors was running for a seat, but she did not see his name on the ballot. She wrote his name in, but was not sure if he had decided to run, or was successfully able to run a campaign. The other student said he was only familiar with one of the two candidates listed on the ballot, but had no clue who the other person was. Regardless of these setbacks, the students were both very proud to have participated in the election. One student said, “It is our first time, since it only happens every five years, and we are very young. It makes us proud to participate.”

For many independent candidates, the process has only strengthened their desire to be a part of the system, as apparent from this weibo post by @新启蒙熊伟 (New_Enlightenment Xiong Wei) showing a picture of several independent candidates, and saying “we’ll be back in five years!”

In five years time, maybe the experience will be a little bit different. 


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