Accessibility links

Beijing Residents Vote in Local Council Elections - 2003-12-10

Residents of China's capital went to the polls Wednesday as the communist leadership introduced a limited experiment in democracy.

Voters lined up at a polling station in south Beijing - one of a handful where the government allowed foreign journalists access.

The Chinese government says eight million voters in Beijing were eligible to select more than 4,400 representatives in the capital's 18 districts. They are to fill neighborhood councils that advise upper levels of government on residents' needs, such as streetlights and tree trimming.

The councils also help resolve disputes between residents and property developers who tear down old housing to build high rises and shopping malls.

The candidates, who were all approved by the Communist Party, included a larger number than ever of independent contestants.

Political campaigning is illegal in China, and candidates did what they could within the limits to make themselves known. One man went door-to-door and handed out copies of the electoral law. His visit was not welcomed by residents like one man, who is not used to having politicians knocking on his door. "I don't choose anyone just because he knocks on my door," said the voter. "He should have brought his resume with him."

Voter turnout appeared light at polling stations visited by a reporter.

Some people said they did not vote because they do not understand how the process works. Outside one polling place, a shoe repairman said he did not vote because he has learned not to trust politicians. "Whoever the leaders are, they are all the same. I will have nothing to do with it," he vowed.

Chinese leaders promoted these elections as a sign that democracy exists in the country although it is a one-party state. Political analysts, however, describe the poll as a miniscule step toward direct elections.

Li Long Jie, an organizer in charge of one polling station, echoed the government's line when asked why Chinese people cannot directly vote for their leaders as people in many countries can. "China is too big," he explained. "We have more than one billion people - too many people whose votes would have to be gathered at one time."

Some political analysts say that although these neighborhood elections are small, they are important for the government as it deals with a growing number of neighborhood disputes stemming from a construction boom.

Vote counting begins Thursday, and polling officials say the final tally could take about two weeks.