Grassroots democracy activists in China are challenging the ruling Communist Party in unprecedented numbers by harnessing Twitter and other online social media tools to campaign in elections.
More than 100 “independent” candidates including farmers, factory workers, university professors, students, journalist and writers have announced their intention to stand for election, rattling senior Party officials.
China’s network of district assemblies have traditionally been stuffed with candidates “elected” from a carefully preselected list of mostly Communist Party members, although according to the law anyone can stand if they have the support of 10 local voters.
In the past only a tiny handful of “independent” candidates have managed to get elected. Activists say however the rapid rise in popularity of Twitter-like microblogs and internet chat forums is now making it harder for the Party to control the system.
Yao Bo, a well-known Chinese newspaper columnist with some 300,000 followers on his microblog, said he was intending to stand in his local Beijing district and would submit “a thousand” supporting signatures for his application.
“What I want to do is popularise knowledge about the process, to tell ordinary people they do have rights,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “They shouldn’t complain that Communist Party doesn’t give them rights. It does, but it just neglects to tell people about them.”