Pro-democracy candidates hoping to take part in a round of district-level elections in the Chinese capital Beijing Tuesday have been barred from running. The central government has showcased the grass roots elections as proof that its tight grip on China's political process is being gradually loosened.
The Chinese government often claims to the world it is gradually introducing democracy to its people at grass-roots level.
An increasing number of political office seekers have responded by launching bids as independent candidates. Factory workers, housewives, students and journalists have tried to run for office in local elections and challenge the ruling Communist Party’s practice of hand-picking candidates.
In in Beijing’s municipal elections this week, independent candidates complained that authorities are cracking down on their campaign by erasing their names from ballots, preventing them from taking part.
Independent candidate Ye Jinghuan is among 13 people who campaigned and applied to participate in the ballot.
She says despite applying, she and the other members of the group have been told by the authorities they are not allowed to run for office.
Ye says they have not been told why they cannot run to become independent members of China’s 30,000 local People’s Congresses.
She says she wanted to take part because current local government officials rarely listened to the concerns of residents in her district.
Ye says the treatment has made independent candidates angry.
She says the way the authorities choose candidates is completely undemocratic and they have no chance of being elected.
Most independent candidates have turned to the internet to seek-out political support, and there are signs that the success of the online platforms has authorities worried.
Earlier this week the central government earlier ordered the bosses of China's most popular Web sites - including Sina Corporation - to attend workshops where they were told to tightly enforce censorship directives.
Many of the independent candidates' web and social network sites have subsequently been shut down.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday he was unaware of the barring of candidates in Beijing's election.
But he claimed all Chinese citizens have their rights guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and the country's laws.
Voting for the local Congresses began months ago and is scheduled to finish in mid-2012.
Not all independent candidates who have campaigned have failed to get elected.
Two candidates have managed to win elections in southern Guangdong province.
60-year-old Foshan farmer Guo Huojia won 7,000 out of 9,000 votes in his district in September.
He lobbied for the rights of villagers who had their land grabbed by local government officials and property developers.
But he was given no time to act on behalf of his constituents because he was arrested the day after winning.