Deadly violence taints China's village elections

When Zhou Changshun complained about the fairness of elections in his home village in China’s Hebei province, he had just three days left to live.

On the third day the farmer was found dead at home alongside the butchered remains of his 60-year-old wife and daughter-in law.

His grandson, aged three, died later in hospital from axe wounds.

“There is no doubt about it, we suspect Zhou Changshun’s murder was due to his complaint to the authorities,” his brother Zhou Changsheng told AFP.

“He had complained that the village elections were not being held fairly.”

Officials in Hebei confirmed the killings to AFP.

Fan Xincheng—the brother of an elected village committee member—later turned himself in and confessed to the murders, local government official Tang Gang told AFP, showing police documents.

The 37-year-old suspect is now in detention but he has yet to go to court, and investigators are probing whether the killings were related to a personal vendetta, which Zhou’s family denies, or the election.

Such village elections are the only direct democratic polls for government officials in communist China, but the Zhou family tragedy in Nanfanzhuang is merely the latest allegedly linked to the ballots.

Although leaders at the Chinese Parliament, which is meeting this week in Beijing, have pledged to further democratic reforms, they have also expressed scepticism over direct elections and “Western-style democracy”.

“We will never exercise multi-party ruling… the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers or the bicameral system,” Parliament chairperson Wu Bangguo said on Monday.

Still, delegates to the rubber-stamp Parliament acknowledge deficiencies in China’s political system.

“Of course, the reform of our nation’s political structure needs to be perfected further,” Parliament spokesperson and former foreign minister Li Zhaoxing said last week.

“Especially when we face the new demands of safeguarding the democratic rights of the people and maintaining social fairness and justice.”

Premier Wen Jiabao also admitted to Parliament last week that corruption remained a problem within official ranks, vowing increased efforts to combat the scourge and promote clean government.

Those problems have left deep scars in Jiuzhou, another village in Hebei province.

“China is a black-hearted society, especially in rural areas,” said Li Aiguo, whose brother was murdered in 2007 after helping sack Juizhou’s corrupt village chief.

“Local officials are just too corrupt, they do not abide by the law, but regularly violate the law. No one can restrain them.”

Li’s brother was one of four Jiuzhou villagers killed by the deposed head, whom they had accused of corruption and colluding with local Communist Party leaders to bilk village assets.

The ousted chief committed suicide—and officials in Langfang Prefecture, which oversees Jiuzhou, said the multiple killings resulted from a personal dispute and had nothing to do with village elections.

Relatives of the dead say authorities have refused to listen to villagers’ complaints.

Village elections were introduced in 1988, since when they have seen more than 2,4-million officials elected in 610 000 communities, according to government figures.

Committees are elected for terms of three years. However, they are overseen by the local branch of the Communist Party, which also organises the election, hampering their ability to act independently.

China’s state-run media has carried reports recently of a series of killing sprees linked to village elections in 2008, and some government websites have expressed concern.

“Violent acts are increasing and the numbers of murders are rising due to village elections,” an editorial on the website of the government of western China’s Xinjiang region said.

“A lot of elections are being held under unfair conditions with underhand methods linked to family ties, cronies and even the mafia.”—AFP

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