Chinese students vote in rare democracy experiment

Tue Nov 11, 2008 8:41am EST
 
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By James Pomfret

GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - The leafy campus of a south Chinese university is holding a rare democratic vote, with the contest for student president igniting hopes that this one-party state may be testing the waters with Western-style student democracy.

Four student candidates in Guangzhou's prestigious Sun Yat-sen University have been running campaigns and rallies in a burst of officially-sanctioned democracy unusual for this country run by a Communist Party wary of challengers.

Students strolling or cycling about the campus' red-brick faculties, freshly-mown lawns and shady avenues of old Banyan and Camphor trees have been fired up by the vote, coming so soon after Barack Obama's triumph in the U.S. presidential race.

The student elections took place on Tuesday.

Chen Xia, one of the four candidates contesting the student union presidency, wrote on her campaign blog: "This direct election is a democratic progress experiment. Along with everyone else, I feel fortunate to be able to become a pioneer."

Business-driven Guangdong has become a focus of Chinese calls for greater political relaxation and, 30 years after the country launched economic reforms, for new reforms to give citizens more say in government.

The campus election appears to be another step to establish the province as a trial ground for such efforts.

"There have been such student elections in the past including at Peking University but they are rare. This is significant in its exploration of a political topic, a feeling out of the limits," said Johnny Lau, a veteran China watcher in Hong Kong.   Continued...

 
<p>A student casts his vote for the election of the student union presidency at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province November 11, 2008. The leafy campus of the south Chinese university is holding a rare democratic vote, with the contest for student president igniting hopes that even this one-party state is not immune to the pull of Barack Obama's win. REUTERS/Joe Tan</p>