Updated: 03/31/2014 05:49 | By Agence France-Presse

Rebel China village set for new elections

A Chinese village which held landmark democratic elections after it rebelled against Communist Party officials heads to the polls again on Monday, shadowed by fears that local authorities are reasserting their grip on power.

Rebel China village set for new elections

A resident casts his vote on the second day of village elections in Wukan in China's southern Guangdong province on March 4, 2012 - by Peter Parks

The village of Wukan, in south China's Guangdong province, grabbed headlines worldwide in 2011 when locals staged huge protests and drove out Communist Party officials they accused of illegal land grabs.

Protest leaders were swept to power in landmark elections months later.

Residents are set go to the polls again on Monday to elect a new seven-member village committee. But the recent arrests of several former protest leaders have stoked fears that the election is under pressure from higher-level authorities.

Many residents of Wukan, a fishing village where locals said around 430 hectares (1,060 acres) of land had been illegally seized and sold, have become disillusioned with the committee leaders elected in 2012, after they failed to reclaim much of their land.

State-backed land-grabs are a key driver of unrest in rural China, fuelling the majority of the tens of thousands of protests taking place in the countryside each year, according to estimates.

- Protest leaders detained -

The elections in Wukan were seen as unprecedented in their openness, leading some commentators to hail them as a model for democratic reforms in the country, where the ruling Communist Party does not tolerate organised opposition or multiparty elections.

But two of the village committee's most senior members, former protest firebrands Yang Semao and Hong Ruichao, were detained on corruption charges this month by prosecutors in the city of Lufeng, which administers Wukan.

Another committee member, Zhuang Liehong, fled to the United States to seek asylum earlier this year, in what he said was an attempt to avoid arrest.

Reports last week also said that a member of the Communist Party branch originally ousted by the protesters had been reappointed to the village, adding to fears that local authorities are reasserting their power.

"It's very clear that the authorities just want to control the situation in Wukan," Zhuang told AFP from his new home in the US.

Villages across China have been allowed to hold elections for decades, but they often take place behind closed doors, and are subject to widespread interference by local communist officials.

The elections held in Wukan in 2012 were seen as a breakthrough as candidates were not vetted by the party, a group of ordinary villagers oversaw the process, and votes were cast by secret ballot.

But analysts said it was unlikely that the elections on Monday would be so open.

"The old protest leaders are likely to fail, because they are still in prison or under investigation," said Xiong Wei, a researcher who studied Wukan's uprising and runs a think-tank in Beijing that looks at legal and rural issues.

"The local government has tried to discredit the first group of leaders," he added. "There is not the same monitoring as before, so the villagers worry that the results can be faked."

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