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Democratic consciousness grows in countryside
( 2003-10-27 09:31) (Xinhua)

A typical day for 46-year-old Ai Hong starts with weeding and clearing of the terraced fields, but on election day he was in the village primary school to cast his vote.

"Farm work can be left till tomorrow, but today I won't mind anything else since election is the top priority," said Ai on the day of the village committee election, October 12.

Mannongfeng Village in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China's Yunnan Province, where Ai lives, has604 households and 2,776 villagers all of the Dai ethnic minority.

Three years ago, the villagers elected the village committee, the executive body of self-management, for the first time through direct voting, and this time, they will exercise their rights again.

In order to safeguard grassroots democracy, China promulgated the law on village committees in November 1998 after more than a decade of pilot elections, formally putting grass-roots democraticself-management on a legal footing.

Last year, 25 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities held elections for village committees, which serve a three-year term, with turnouts as high as 80 percent.

This year, another six provinces or autonomous regions, including Yunnan, will see elections, and Wang Jinhua, head of grass-roots election affairs with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, predicted that the figure is expected to grow.

"This indicates that after years of practice, the democratic consciousness of China's vast number of villagers has been greatlylifted," said Lu Xueyi, president of the China Sociology Society.

The election at Mannongfeng village lasted for almost a day and2,084 out of the total 2,086 eligible voters took part, a turnout of 99.9 percent.

The sitting director of the village committee, 29-year-old Ai Hanyong, was re-elected with a landslide victory of 1,539 votes.

Ai Hong, who voted for another candidate and waited in the rainfor the result, was not disappointed.

"This is the result of free elections by villagers," said Ai. "I believe that the new village committee has the capability to lead us toward a better life."

In nearby Baka village, dominated by the ethnic Hani group, villagers also exercised their democratic rights in the election of the village committee.

Zhang Xiaohong, who had just reached the legal voting age of 18,performed what she deemed a "sacred" task in voting for the first time.

"Anyone who is a member of the village and has reached the age of 18 is fully endowed the right to vote according to their own will," said Zhang.

According to A Wu, deputy party chief of Jing Hong city, to which the two villages belong, in the three years since the first election, the villagers' awareness of their democratic rights has greatly improved.

"In the past, villagers were indifferent, but now they have come to realize that those who are willing to serve them and are capable of leading them toward prosperity should win their votes,"said A Wu.

In both villages, a strict election procedure was followed, from registration and the nomination of candidates in the early stage to the introduction of candidates, checking and distributionof votes, voting, counting, and result announcements.

Lu Xueyi said that over the past decade, especially during the five years since the promulgation of the law on village committees,China has succeeded in establishing grassroots democratic practice.

"The progress is not just reflected by the raising of democratic consciousness, but also by the strict observance of laws and regulations by grassroots officials in order to better safeguard the democratic rights of the people," Lu said.

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