Lu Banglie on His Experience in the People’s Congress Deputy Election

作者: 发表时间:2007-4-9 13:12:32

On December 9, 2006, the election day at Bailizhou town of Yichang city, Zhijiang city of Hubei province, former Zhijiang city People’s Congress deputy Lu Banglie lost. Lu spoke with the World and China Institute about the election process on December 28. We summed up Lu’s experience based on our conversation.

Editor’s note

To Lu, the People’s Congress deputy election was all about government’s active intervention and control, the strength and depth of the government’s intervention was unforeseen. From a regular staff member of the Bailizhou town government to the head of the administrative department of the Zhijiang city government, and even the above Yichang city government, in an unprecedented move, joined in the scramble for votes. In this election, the government which was beaten in 2003 maintained a “war” mentality when dealing with “independent candidate” Lu.

Special treatment for Lu

In the summer of 2006, Lu returned from Beijing to his Hubei hometown to get prepared for the grass-root level People’s Congress deputy election. Before his return, he gathered materials on the new rural construction, including central government’s texts on rural construction and academic research on rural problems. Lu had worked hard on it while staying in Beijing. With determination and an ambitious plan, he returned to his hometown. After returning home, Lu paid to distribute this material to the local farmers. Despite Lu’s People’s Congress deputy status, the local government searched his house and confiscated all the materials. Later from July onwards, there were one or two persons assigned to follow on Lu. They were not government employees but were hired by the government just to watch Lu’s every move.

Even with this level of surveillance, the police and the relevant departments of the town would still drop by Lu’s house from time to time. For instance, in mid November, the day after Lu distributed campaign material to one village, the police searched his house again and took away his diary and manuscripts of some campaign material. In time, most of the distributed campaign fliers were taken away from the villagers one way or another.

Moreover, Lu was summoned to the police station or town government for questioning, especially on the few days before the election. Lu was not only followed by a dozen of people but was frequently summoned to the police station. In fact, Lu spent the night before election at the police station. In the morning of the election day, Lu was taken away against his will by the town government for “medical treatment” (before this, Lu was beaten up a few times by a hustler who claimed to have been run over by Lu’s motorcycle). He was only released at 11 o’clock in the morning to return to the polling station. By this time, the election was over and his ballot paper had been taken away by his sister-in-law who voted on his behalf.

The special treatment for Lu was also extended to his family and friends. Right before the election, Lu’s family and friends were also followed on and were frequently summoned to the police station. At the same time, the government also twisted the arms of the people around Lu by offering tangible incentives such as children’s education, military recruitment and work-related favors.

Control on voters and divide-and-conquer tactic

The government’s control on the voters underscored the severity of the competition. Since the government did not announce the constituency demarcation, so Lu decided to start campaigning anyway in the nearby eight villages. But a month before the election, there were special teams of people patrolling these eight villages. Activities such as “mahjong playing”, “dinner gathering” would be questioned and monitored. In extreme cases, patrol officers and cadres would question why villagers had their lights off late.

Around election time, the cadres of Yichang city, Zhijiang city and Bailizhou town organized work groups and stay in the eight villages. As a result, Lu’s interaction with ordinary citizens would be forbidden or avoided. Whenever Lu tried to visit the surrounding villages, the patrolling officers would immediately stop him.

Besides this “patrolling and surveillance” tactic, the local government started making some kind of promises or offering some practical, tangible advantages to the local folks. A case in point was Lu’s Baoyuesi village where villagers were offered allowance to fix methane gas pits, roads and convert mains water, which were feature items of the new rural construction plan. The city’s civil affairs department spent 20,000 RMB on subsidizing the poor households and it even chose a direct method of putting money directly in the hands of these poor rural households. The city’s hygiene department sent a team of doctors to Baoyuesi village to cure the sick villagers. Similar measures were also taken in the other seven villages.

When Lu was in Beijing, he encouraged some people who were sympathetic to rural orphans to raise these orphans. When he returned to Zhijiang, he went on to contact some rural orphans about the funding to raise them. When the local government got wind of it, it immediately contacted and funded the program to raise these orphans, thus passing over Lu’s plan.

Moreover, the government used a divide-and-conquer tactic on villagers who supported Lu. Before the election, the town government sent staff members to the eight villages to dissuade their family members from voting for Lu. Before returning to their hometowns, the leading cadres would pull rank on them. The most direct way was to warn them if they did not complete their “tasks”, they would risk being laid off or demoted.

Tight security against the media and outsiders

The local government guarded heavily against outsiders who tried to enter Bailizhou to report and observe the election. Geographically, Bailizhou is an isolated island on the Yangtze River, accessible only by water. Before the election, all 22 piers around Bailizhou were closely monitored to keep outsiders from entering Bailizhou to observe the election. The local government gathered all boatmen at the pier and demanded them to notify the government immediately should they spot any outsider going into town by water. There would be a reward of 500 RMB for every outsider reported, if they refused to cooperate, their licenses would be revoked. Under such circumstances, the election at Bailizhou was completely sealed off from the outside world and impervious to media coverage.

Constraint on constituency demarcation and candidate nomination

In this election, the government had been silent on the constituency demarcation. A few months before the election, Lu consistently asked for the details of the constituency demarcation. But his request was consistently denied and he did not know about the details of the constituency demarcation until the time very close to the election.

Regarding candidate nomination, the order of the way was local cadres taking a prepared list of candidates to the homes of the voters and had the voters signed on the list in front of them. When Lu asked the cadres how he should conduct his nomination, he was told, “you can conduct your candidate nomination but you have to bring over your ten voters to sign here.” Lu was clear that the only result of this arrangement would be the ten voters being dissuaded one-on-one from nominating him.

Watching over voting and manipulating vote counting

During voting, even though the local government did not adopt the controversial “mobile ballot boxes”, voters were still monitored openly. When a voter cast his/her vote, he/she was often monitored by someone from the local police station or the government. For those who tried to get around such harassment and took the ballot paper home to mark on it, they would be followed by the cadres and be dissuaded from voting for Lu at their homes.

In terms of counting votes and reading out the ballot paper for recording, since the government was put in charge of the procedure, so Lu’s votes were greatly reduced. When it came to reading out the ballot paper, there was a dramatic episode in which the tallyman read out Lu’s name a few times in a roll and the cadre standing next said to him, “if you mention Lu Banglie’s name one more time, I’ll replace you.” In the vote tabulation, Lu’s recorded votes were less than he actually got. For example, in one village, Lu got about 500 votes but only over 100 votes were recorded.

Under such circumstances, Lu received over 1000 votes officially in one village and failed to receive less than half of the votes in the remaining three villages in the district. Lu therefore lost the election. Lu lost but with pride, it was said that he did receive many rural votes in every polling station of Bailizhou rather than only his district. Therefore, Lu’s clout was greatly boosted in Bailizhou as the result.

To Lu, the government’s control on the election process was unexpected and left him powerless. He was not surprised about losing. He was frank about the government control being the direct cause he was beaten. Lu said he had been told that the local government spared no cost in sinking him and spent 1.5 million RMB. Confronted with such colossal power, what can an ordinary farmer like him do?