Yao Lifa on 2006 Qianjiang People’s Congress Deputy Election

作者:Yao Lifa 发表时间:2007-4-9 13:19:36

After losing in the 2003 re-election, former People’s Congress deputy Yao Lifa continued to run as an “independent candidate” in the city-level People’s Congress deputy election on November 8, 2006. Unfortunately, Yao lost again. Yao was interviewed by the World and China Institute and briefed us all about the election process. This essay was based on the conversation with Yao.

Editor’s note

Yao Lifa lost the election without the normal anger and frustration. He dealt with losing with a kind of calmness which partly came from his many years of experience running as a candidate. Apparently, the decade long experience Yao had in running the People’s Congress deputy elections made him no stranger to losing. Yao came to the conclusion that he was up against an invincible wall on his election road. To him, this wall was a combination of man-made masterpiece as well as the inherent result of the election environment.

Yao lost repeatedly in the election in the passed year, the reason that he lost the 2006 election was same as before due to the local government’s defense and siege warfare waged on the independent candidates’ campaign activities. Just like in 2003, the local government was in a “war” mentality and fought tooth and nail in the 2006 election to beat Yao. It was the same as in 2003 except this time the local government’s control on the entire election process was more discreet, more professional and better in division of labor. Moreover, the local government’s intervention was more blatant and lawless. The government’s control manifested throughout Yao’s entire campaign. We caught a glimpse of it from Yao’s description below.

Constraint on Yao’s early preparation work

Yao Lifa started the preparation for his campaign in late September, 2006. In the early phase of his campaign, Yao printed a large quantity of campaign material and distributed it in his district and the adjacent districts in order to mobilize other members of the public to participate in the election to resonate with his effort. But these two ordinary campaign behavior drove the government into full alert and deployed the police and related government units.

On September 28, Yao contacted some teachers in Qianjiang city and held a meeting with them at a local restaurant. He wanted to mobilize them to run in the election as independent candidates. But in less than two hours into the meeting, the owner of the restaurant came to them with unexpected news – the restaurant was swarmed with police. Since Yao and the others did not do anything illegal, so the local government used a more discreet one-on-one tactic. The officials then showed up one at a time and asked a person at the meeting to go away with some kind of excuses. The local government’s coercive tactic quickly dissolved Yao’s meeting.

Regarding Yao’s campaigning work, the government directly employed the police and the news and publishing administration agency. The police used them mainly for dealing with the volunteers who helped Yao’s campaigning or those who were hired by him to distribute campaign material. Most of the people who distributed material were invited to the police station somewhere along the line. They were brought to the police station by reasons of “disturbing election order” or “unauthorized distribution of illegal printing matter”. But the local police were restrained on these occasions and would release the volunteers after seven or eight hours of “educating” or “dissuading” them. Even then, the police station experience stressed out the people. Apart from the campaign material, Yao also printed a booklet about election. The local news and publishing administration agency directly intervened and told Yao that the booklet was an illegal publication and banned its distribution. Also, the local police investigated on the publishing process. The government’s action turned Yao’s early campaign into an obstacle course.

Restraining Yao and his circle

The local government’s main focus was controlling Yao. Stalking, summoning him to the police station and telephone tapping became part of Yao’s daily routine throughout the election campaign. Since September 25, the police followed Yao day-and-night, round-the-clock. During this period, the daily routine of Yao went like this: when he left home in the morning, someone waiting at his doorstep would politely ask him to board on the vehicle prepared for him to the school. During work hours, he would be watched overtly or covertly. When he got off work, the personnel who were supposed to “take care of him” would be waiting. Yao would ride a bicycle and used his 30-odd years of geographical experience of Qianjiang to “play catch” with them.

Telephone tapping was an important tool of the local government in controlling Yao. During this election, the relevant department employed “real-time bugging” to control Yao. More importantly, in this election, the telephone tapping was not only limited to Yao but included all the people who contacted him by telephone. Yao’s network was closely monitored during the campaign.

Apart from stalking and telephone tapping, Yao was brought to the police station or retained with no apparent reason at critical moments of the campaign. In the evening of November 6, three days before polling, Yao was canvassing in a small neighborhood and was taken away by a dozen of policemen and was interrogated by reasons of “violation against public safety management regulation” and “disturbing election order”. During interrogation, Yao answered the questions put to him regarding election violation but the officer did not follow the proper procedures to write down Yao’s statement. In the morning of November 7, Yao was taken away by the police against his will within only a few hours of his last release, the reason cited was a “supplementary” interview, on this occasion, the relevant department searched the items on Yao thoroughly. Every item he had with him (down to the spring of a ball pen) was examined three times over. Afterwards, Yao was held up temporarily in the police station and released at 11:47 at night on November 7. This was less than 15 minutes before the election day of November 8, this left no time for Yao to mobilize and do last-minute work at the critical time.

There was also another episode on November 7, the police went to Yao’s home and in the name of Yao, demanded Yao’s wife to assist the police work and let them into the house. The episode ended with Yao’s wife refusing to open the door.

Yao’s opportunity to mobilize and campaign was greatly reduced because of the series of constraints. Even when he had the chance to go into the district to interact with the public, he was often taken away abruptly. As a result, Yao could not conduct an effective campaign.

Psychological swaying

In terms of swaying the public in the district, the local government was as well prepared. They knew very well Yao had much more clout than the rest of the candidates, therefore, the government had to discourage people to vote for Yao by changing their perception on him. To sum up, the local government used the following psychological tactics to direct the public.

Tactic 1: Spreading rumors – usually the relevant department set up a team to spread rumors about Yao, for example, “Yao conspired with foreign countries” or “An arrest warrant has been issued for Yao”.

Tactic 2: Let mid-ranked cadres be the messengers – the message often was: the central government would not allow Yao to get elected. This open reference to “central government’s instruction” was apparently intimidating to the average citizen. To vote for Yao would become a direct violation of the central government’s instruction.

Tactic 3: Creating tension - this was mainly in the form of stricter control on the districts. Almost at the same time as the round-the-clock surveillance on Yao, the relevant departments set up special shift guards and posts to monitor schools in particular. In certain crucial places, there were special guards patrolling continuously. These controls limited Yao’s contact with his voters and also prevented external parties from observing and studying the election. Most importantly, this heavily-guarded atmosphere sent one message to the local voters – do not easily vote for Yao.

Tactic 4: Carrot and stick – this was the most skillful and pragmatic tool used by the government. Many and various advantages were offered on a collective basis, for example, during the campaign period, meals and clothing were offered in Yao’s school purportedly for “Double Yang Festival(Sept. 9)”, “group performances”. And people who openly supported Yao or those closely related to him would be intimidated. To the government, they had a repertoire of tricks to use, they could easily issue orders by different jurisdictions, which could wield great influence over a person. Questions such as “do you really want to drag your family and children into this by doing this?”, “would you want a plain sail for your career or rather a sudden stop?” were presented right in front of people Yao’s supporters. Due to the gains and emotions involved, the number of people who supported Yao all the way was greatly reduced.

Restricting who can make the candidate list

Restricting the election process was an essential part of government’s intervention. This control manifested in the restrictions the government imposed on the voters’ nomination of candidates. The government controlled the rules and therefore the power to nominate. This was how the nomination took place in Yao’s school district - in the meeting of mid-ranked school cadres, the school’s election committee made a blunt request, “this nomination shall go to a woman”. Apparently, it would then be impossible for Yao to get nominated. In fact, the collective nomination list was an open secret to all. But in order to make the matter more satisfactory and more presentable, at that the meeting, some cadres would take the nomination with the names of the “preordained” candidates around to consult with others. And the others would sign on the nomination form as if on cue. What about Yao Lifa? Apart from the standard “woman nomination only” criteria, the presiding cadre’s reference to “the central government won’t allow Yao get elected” made Yao’s chance of nomination close to zero.

And even when Yao managed to get a nomination recommendation form from another district with the required number of signatures, the government still found a way to remove him from the nomination list. In this election, Yao got hold of a nomination form through the help of a teacher from another high school and managed to gather over 20 signatures of voters. But when he presented the nomination form to the relevant officer in the election committee, he received no affirmative acknowledgement from the officer. Afterwards, the department organized and orchestrated single-handedly a scene of “voters voluntarily withdrawing their nomination for Yao”. They were armed with pre-filled forms of “voters voluntarily withdrawing their nomination for Yao” to meet with those who signed to nominate Yao. The personnel of the relevant department acted very patiently to persuade Yao’s supporters. They persuaded face-to-face or promised advantages or emphasized the negative consequences of supporting Yao, in the end, most of Yao’s nominators signed on the pre-filled forms.

Controlling voting behavior

The local government controlled voting by the polling station setting. In order to scatter Yao’s votes, the local government set up 21 polling stations in Yao’s district. In addition, there was police presence in all polling stations to keep out external observers. Even worse, the officer who ran the polling station blatantly told voters again and again that “votes for external candidate” would be rendered invalid. Apparently, all these measures were in place to target Yao, the independent candidate.

And the setting for vote counting underscored the arbitrary election rules. The relevant department asked for the votes from 20 sub-sections to be taken to the main venue to be counted. But at the main venue, the votes were not gathered together to be read out loud. The purpose of separate counting was obvious, if votes were gathered together to be read out loud for recording. The leading cadres could not pull their weight around on the school cadres. Under such circumstances, Yao only got 67 votes in his district. The dust had settled and Yao lost.

Though Yao lost, it hardly meant he was not popular with the general public. On the contrary, voters in many districts voted for him, not only did he get city votes, he also got rural votes. After the election, many people were dissatisfied with the local government but were sympathetic and supportive of Yao.

Points to ponder

Yao was unsurprised or unfazed about losing. As an ordinary citizen who spoke for the public, Yao’s participation in the election was dependent on the people’s trust and hopes. Throughout the 2006 election, although many people wanted to vote for Yao but the many measures of the government prevented them from following their hearts in voting. Looking back on the election process, Yao thought hard about one question: why did the local government blatantly acted against the law to intervene and manipulate the election? Yao gained further understanding into the question after the 2006 election. To Yao, the absence of just, fair and democratic laws and election institutions was an important reason the government managed to impose its administrative will on the election.

In terms of law, there existed a major problem that the current election laws were not enforceable. For example, the requirements on the nomination in the existing election laws lacked details. The wording was ambivalent, which left much room for the local government to manipulate. The second legal problem was that the existing election laws lacked the relevant redress clauses. The election laws did not stipulate election right, the right to vote and be voted, let alone the relevant legal redress. To Yao, the absence of the right to redress was the same as not having any right. The existing legal predicament was that it did not guarantee citizens’ right to sue an illegal winner of an election. The present election laws stipulated in principle the sanction against disrupting elections but not the procedures to handle election disputes. Under such circumstances, voters cannot effectively oversee election problems and were unable to sanction the so-called representatives who won the election illegally. In the absence of such relevant legislations as well as the ambivalent wording, even if the justice department accepted the litigation from the public, the cases often dragged on in vain.

In terms of institution, Yao believed there were two issues, first the relationship between the ruling party and the People’s Congress. Due to the duality of party and politics, the ruling party is a de facto command of the People’s Congress. In the local People’s Congress deputy elections, the local party leaders and other representatives of special interests joined their interests. As a result, the party administrative department imposed strict election control. Under such circumstances, independent candidates became the natural enemies that the relevant departments safeguarded against. It would be extremely difficult to have a breakthrough. Another problem was that there existed no competitive elections. The current set-up provides no substantive protection for Chinese citizens’ freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. In the absence of the freedom of assembly, different civil groups lacked a legitimate channel into elections. Independent candidates had no one but themselves to rely on. In the absence of concrete protection of freedom of press, the media can only cover and monitor elections as a third party and the relevant information and election process were not openly and transparently presented to the public. On the contrary, the situation ensured the local government’s ability to control elections and directly compromised the fairness of elections.

Yao’s lamentation

After the above experiences, Yao lamented that how an ordinary citizen like himself got on the nerve of the local government and caused them to spend so much energy and money to guarantee his failure. He also languished for the convoluted road to democratic elections. To Yao, though he lost the 2006 election but he would not give up. Yao’s only choice is to keep on running in future elections. At the same time, he also understands with such hostile election environment, he has to start preparing now for the next election in five years time.