When Chinese voters go to the polls, it is only to pick local representatives to advise on mundane issues like rubbish collection and parking. But when Ye Jinghuan sought election in Beijing, she was treated like an enemy of the state. Plainclothes officers tailed the 64-year old retiree as she left her home on polling day Tuesday, and she faced constant harassment from police and government officials after announcing her run, she said. The nationwide contest for spots in local legislatures, held every five years, is the only direct election in the People’s Republic of China. Authorities were eager to show off what they describe as democracy “with Chinese characteristics”, with officials ushering dozens of reporters into a polling station in Xingfu, in central Beijing. Voters filled out their pink ballot papers in front of officials, ignoring a screened-off area labelled “Secret Balloting Place”.
Chinese law states that anyone over 18, who has not been stripped of their political rights, can stand for election and vote. “Ethnicity, gender, party, residence, economic situation, there are no limits,” crowed Liu Xiancai, who heads the Xingfu election office. But Ye’s experience was different.
Candidates must be backed by 10 people or nominated by their workplace to stand. But official election committees ultimately decide who gets on the ballot.
“The government can’t let someone like me be a candidate,” Ye said. “I would express my own thoughts. When the people’s congress opens session, I would cast an opposition ballot.”