Hundreds of villagers on Thursday morning surrounded the primary school of Panguanying in Qinhuangdao of Hebei Province, after a long-postponed village election was interrupted when several men carried away the ballot box and ripped up the voters list.
Villagers first became upset when the local government separated the more than 1,400 eligible voters into seven groups. They had lined up at the local primary school to vote for village chief and two other village committee members beginning at 8:30 am.
As their anger mounted the voting was stopped and some three men tore up the voters list and carted away the ballot box.
County police were on scene but didn't stop the ballot box from being taken away. The local police chief told the Global Times at the scene that they would investigate the case and try to provide answers to satisfy the villagers.
"We are furious that our right to vote has been stripped away," Shan Hongcheng, a middle-aged villager, told the Global Times. "Sabotaging the vote is against the Electoral Law and I don't understand why the police just stood idly by when people took the ballot box away."
Han Shaojun, a county secretary of the committee for discipline inspection, told the Global Times that the village's election committee will decide when the election will be held again.
"We have no detailed timeline for the election and the reason for the delay is very complicated. Police will handle the case and investigate why the ballot box was taken away. And we'll follow the laws and regulations," Han said, adding that people found responsible for interfering with the election will be punished.
Villagers were not satisfied with the response they had received from officials for the suspension of the election and around 100 of them stayed at the primary school waiting for further explanation.
The hotly contested election centers on a garbage incinerator that started construction in 2009. Pan Zhizhong, considered the most popular candidate among locals, is one of the three people who want to stop the construction of the incinerator in Panguanying.
"I have no intention of staying in power, and whoever can stop the garbage incinerator will get my support," Pan told the Global Times, "I'm just worried a new village chief will support the factory incinerator that could cause serious pollution here."
Pan said his research into the environmental assessment conducted prior to the incinerator's construction found that 36 of the 100 questionnaires sent to seek villagers' opinion were faked.
Thursday's election of village chief was original scheduled for the beginning of 2012.
Tang Jun, a researcher on grass-roots democracy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times, that many villages are taking local elections very seriously.
"Villagers are demanding their lawful right to vote for candidates who represent their best interests," Tang said.