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CCTV News | Sep 17
China's supreme court re-interpreted a law on internet rumors this past week, deciding that any microblog user who defames or slanders another pers...
You know, over the past few weeks, we've covered many stories about how social media is impacting governments in Asia. In China, the latest tug of war online is over local elections. China's constitution says that all citizens 18-and-older have the right to vote and run for office. But the communist party still calls the shots. And elections are a very sensitive matter. Our contributor in Hong Kong, David Bandurski, finds independent candidates are using social media to get their message out.
China's constitution says all citizens aged 18 or over have the right to vote and stand for election. The country's electoral law says the same thing, but it's still the Communist Party that calls the shots, and elections remain a sensitive matter. In late May and June this year, scores of candidates announced that they would be running independently for People's Congress positions at the district level, the lowest level of China's parliamentary system. They included Li Chengpeng, a well-known journalist and author; Wu Danhong, a law professor in Beijing; and Liang Shuxing, the founder of a grassroots charity foundation. Chinese media initially pounced on this story, like this piece in the Beijing News, listing out eight essential things to know about becoming a candidate: who has the right to stand for election; how do you register. But a ban on media coverage followed quickly, and on June 8th official state media said they were no independent candidates under Chinese law. A senior official said candidates had to be nominated, implying that the decision about who was and wasn't a legit candidate is still in the government's hands. Since June, the chatter about independent candidates has cooled off in the media but the real story this year has been how social media have given candidates a new platform for getting the word out. While many of the roughly 120 who announced their candidacy two months ago have backed off due to government pressure, Li Chengpeng and Wu Danhong are pressing on with their campaigns for now, but Liang Shuxin has been disqualified by local authorities. Also hanging on so far is Xu Ruiyan, an independent candidate for a district in Hangzhou city. He has 11,000 followers from all over China on his micro blog, including influential scholars and journalists. In a video this week, he speaks directly to local voters and others interested in the democratic process.
"It's been 3 months since I announced my candidacy," he says,"as I prepare to take part in elections I want to use microblogs, blogs, and video to introduce myself and my views as a candidate."
Xu also promotes himself on his blog. Here he answers three questions:
The first, why does he want to attempt the impossible? "Actually in my view elections are not something impossible but rather something really ordinary," he says, "naturally, some friends will say I'm too childish, that I don't understand Chinese politics or Chinese reality, but why should we accept the abnormal as our reality? Elections are a basic right given to us in law, so I don't see election as something impossible." There is cautious talk within the ruling Communist Party about introducing more democracy some day. But whatever the outcomes of these local challenges, it's clear that the intersection of new media and the growing appetite for public participation has been a victory of sorts this year. And the more the party pushes back against compelling and relatable candidates like Xu Ruiyan, the more they risk looking even more undemocratic and out of touch. In Hong Kong, I'm David Bandurski for LinkAsia.
So David, do you think any of the independent candidates who are using social media can win? Or rather, will the communist party allow them to win?
Well, I think there's really a consensus you can see among many of these candidates that ultimately their election bids will fail, and they probably will not serve as local People's Congress delegates. But that having been said, there also is the view that you see everywhere that this is an important process, and that through this process of pushing and grabbing the right to vote and the right to stand in election that they will promote progress and perhaps future democratization.
Thanks David. We'll be keeping tabs on that process of electoral "Push and pull" over the weeks to come. Before we go, I want to give you a closer look at that cartoon from David's story, which was first posted on the wildly popular site QQ.com. You see, as far back as 2009, the media started talking about "The green shoots of democracy in Asia." Here the cartoonist is satirizing the communist party chopping off the green shoots from "Ming Zhu" the Chinese characters for democracy. It's yet another way that Chinese citizens are challenging the practices of their government.