Key protest leader not on ballot in rebel China village

Mr Yang Semao, who is running for village chief in Wukan, Guangdong province, gestures during an interview with Reuters on March 30, 2014, a day before the election. Voters in a Chinese village that overthrew its Communist Party bosses in landma
Mr Yang Semao, who is running for village chief in Wukan, Guangdong province, gestures during an interview with Reuters on March 30, 2014, a day before the election. Voters in a Chinese village that overthrew its Communist Party bosses in landmark elections two years ago went to the polls again on Tuesday, March 31, 2014, but Mr Yang, a key protest leader, was absent from the ballot. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

WUKAN (AFP) - Voters in a Chinese village that overthrew its Communist Party bosses in landmark elections two years ago went to the polls again on Tuesday, but a key protest leader was absent from the ballot.

Yang Semao, a firebrand former protest leader in Wukan, and another candidate were accused of corruption earlier this month by authorities in Lufeng, the city that administers the village.

Residents said Yang had pulled out of the run-off ballot for a slot on the local committee, despite receiving thousands of votes in Monday's write-in poll, when former protester Lin Zuluan was re-elected as village chief.

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 and the death of a detained local villager.

The protest leaders were swept to office in free elections the following year.

But several factors - including Yang's absence from Tuesday's ballot - have fuelled fears that higher authorities are reasserting their power.

Despite the graft allegations, Yang is a popular figure seen as less closely-connected to city authorities than Lin.

"I would vote for Yang Semao, but he's dropped out, it's a shame," said a 24-year-old also surnamed Yang, as he scrutinised the list of candidates on Tuesday.

"The village committee isn't powerful; they never really achieved anything," he added, expressing a common sentiment in the village.

As on Monday, a heavy presence of workers sent by the government of Lufeng were standing close to voters on Tuesday at a polling station in a local school.

Residents arrived in a steady stream but candidates did not make public speeches, in contrast to the carnival atmosphere of the village's post-rebellion election.