Behind-the-scenes pressures squeezing new village Leaders

WUKAN, CHINA, Sept 21: One of China’s most celebrated experiments in grass-roots democracy showed signs of faltering today, as frustrations with elected officials in the southern fishing village of Wukan triggered a small and angry protest.
On the first anniversary of an uprising that gave birth to the experiment, about 100 villagers rallied outside Wukan’s Communist Party offices to express anger at what they saw as slow progress by the village’s democratically elected governing committee to resolve local land disputes.
“We still haven’t got our land back,” shouted Liu Hancai, a retired 62-year-old party member, one of many villagers fighting to win back land that was seized by Wukan’s previous administration and illegally sold off for  development.
The small crowd, many on motorbikes, was kept under tight surveillance by plain-clothed officials fearful of any broader unrest breaking out. Police cars were patrolling the  streets.
“There would be more people here, but many people are afraid of trouble and won’t come out,” Liu told Reuters.
A year ago, Wukan became a beacon of rights activism after the land seizures sparked unrest and led to the sacking of local party officials. That in turn led to village-wide elections for a more representative committee to help resolve the bitter rows.
Friday’s demonstration was far less heated than the protests that earned Wukan headlines around the world last September. But the small rally reveals how early optimism over the ground-breaking adoption of local-level democracy has soured for some.
“The hopes are too high,” said Yang Semao, Wukan’s deputy village chief who was elected in the village polls in  March.
At the time, expectations were high in this village, built on a sheltered harbour fringed by mountains, that he and his fellow elected officials could swiftly recover farmland that had been seized by the previous local  administration.
“We have already been trying our best,” Yang said, explaining that complex land contracts and bureaucratic red-tape were hindering their recovery of the land.
Some local critics said the new village committee, which includes several young leaders of last year’s protests, lacked administrative experience, failed to engage the public and allowed itself to be manipulated and out-manoeuvred by higher authorities within the party. MORE (agencies)

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