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Minority villagers elect own leaders
( 2003-11-04 22:23) (China Daily)

October 10 marked the Open Door Festival of the Dai ethnic minority, a time when they normally visit temples, and perform traditional rituals.

This year, however, hundreds of Dai villagers from Mannongfeng Village in Gasa County of the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, gathered in a primary school instead, to choose their new village director.

"I got up earlier that morning to perform the ritual at the temple, so that I would not miss the election,'' said Yi Han, 33, a mother of two children.

The election was being held to choose the new village committee of Mannongfeng Village.

"Life has changed a lot since the first election was held in my village three years ago,'' Yi Han said. "We can choose the people we really like as our leaders and we are involved more in making decisions.''

The Mannongfeng Village Committee, first established through direct election in 2000, is in charge of nine villages with more than 2,700 villagers.

As the three-year term of the first elected village committee will end later this year, a new committee had to be elected.

Two candidates were to run for the post of director of the committee, another two were to run for vice-director, and six people for the five committee member positions.

The election started at 9 am, with the playing of the national anthem.

The two candidates for the post of village director delivered their election speeches one after the other. Then voters marked their ballots secretly. Assistants were appointed to help those who could not read to mark their ballots.

Then the voting began. One after another the voters dropped their ballots into the ballot box.

Since the villagers homes were spread out over a wide area, three voting groups were formed, each with more than 600 people.

In the afternoon, after all the ballots had been collected, the three voting groups gathered together at the school, and an open ballot count was conducted.

The results were written on blackboard as soon as they were known.

Beating his 41-year-old challenger Ai Wenhan, Ai Hanyong, 29, the incumbent village director won the election and will take on his second term as village director.

A former dancer at Beijing's Chinese Ethnic Culture Park and a former village committee member in Mannongfeng, Ai Hanyong had demonstrated his organizational abilities in his three years in office.

He helped finish the village school renovation project and resolved the tap water problem in three villages.

With his re-election he has new plans, including helping turn part of the village into an ethnic culture park in the near future.

The election result is an expression of the people's real wishes and can be regarded as a fair one, said Ai Gong, chairman of the Gasa County People's Congress, who came to oversee the election.

"Before direct elections were implemented, village heads were appointed by higher authority and villagers showed little enthusiasm for participating in government and political affairs,'' Ai Gong said.

"However, things have changed greatly since 2000, when direct elections were first implemented in this remote ethnic village.''

A 46-year-old villager Ai Hongle said his life has changed much in the past several years.

"Life has become easier, and the income of my family has increased,'' he said. His family's income was over 5,000 yuan (US$600) last year.

"But above all, I have hope and am determined to make my family wealthier in the future with the help of the village committee.''

Although he vote for 41-year-old Ai Wenhan who lost the election, Ai Hongle said he did not feel disappointed. "Both candidates have their strong points and I think the winner will continue to help improve people's lives here.''

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