HE PENG

Two hundred kilometers to the north, in the city of Changzhou, He Peng (28) shares Hu's hopes. He is one of the most popular independent candidates in Jiangsu province. ,,Our government is worse than a gang of hooligans'', He says. ,,At least hooligans have some code of honor amongst themselves. The Chinese government does not. It does whatever it pleases. That's why we as ordinary citizens have to start infiltrating in government through these elections, even though it is only at the lowest level for now. By doing this, we might be able to bring control over China back to the people in the future.''

He tells of his aspirations in a private room in a restaurant. Running for office has given him quite some trouble as is.

,,My wife begs me to quit. The other day we were driving on the expressway when she threatened to open the car door and jump out if I wouldn't promise to stop campaigning right then and there. Since I started running last June, my employer is also putting me under a lot of pressure.'' He works at a state owned real estate company.

,,Each month it's the same ritual,'' He continues. ,,My boss calls me into his office. He offers me a seat, never looses his friendly smile and gives me a cup of tea. Then he will ask how I'm doing, what things are keeping me busy and if I make sure to get well rested in my time off work. It all happens in this very indirect, very Chinese way of doing things. He's polite, never straight forward, yet we both know extremely well what he is asking of me: to drop out of the election.''

During the previous local elections in China, five years ago, media were not allowed to cover the candidates who were running independent from the Communist Party. This time around, it is impossible to ignore this group because the news about them is being spread at the speed of light through Weibo, the most popular microblog service in China. It leaves the traditional, state controlled media with no other choice than to start a counter attack against the independent candidates.

 

'China is a one party state where there is no room for candidates with different ideas', wrote the Global Times, a populist paper published by the Party's People's Daily newspaper. 'People like that might destroy our current system'.

Party mouthpiece People's Daily destroys any splinter of hope that anyone might still have. Yes, the paper writes, the constitution grants every citizen 18 years of age and older the right to run for office. But, adds the editor: 'Before they can run, candidates should follow the correct procedures to be nominated as a candidate to be candidate. Next, they have to be officially recognized as a candidate to be candidate before they can be an actual candidate'.

In other words: there are plenty of opportunities to keep someone off the ballot using these vague qualifications which are not up for debate.

The authorities are also not too eager to inform both candidates and voters on the exact date of the elections. It is not uncommon to wait until a few days before to announce the date, an effort to frustrate any tiny part of a democratic process that might still be left.

The government of the southern province of Jiangxi has for now pushed the limit the furthest. Authorities there managed to get independent candidate Liu Ping to give up the race by arresting, hurting and intimidating her supporters.