Villagers in China whose rebellion against local officials last year grabbed the headlines kicked off a key process on Wednesday that will see them hold their first-ever open, democratic elections. Residents in Wukan in the wealthy southern province of Guangdong won rare concessions after they faced off with authorities for more than a week in December in a row over land and graft, including pledges to hold free village polls. China — a one-party state where top leaders are not elected by the people — nevertheless allows villagers across the country to vote for a committee to represent them. But Wukan residents said their leaders had never before allowed these polls to go ahead in an open fashion, and instead selected members of the village committee behind closed doors. But on Wednesday they were due to openly select an independent election committee that would supervise their first democratic village poll due next month. “The election committee is being elected to supervise next month s village election,” a villager surnamed Chen told AFP by phone. “Wukan has never held village elections; this will be the first ever democratic election in Wukan.” Zhang Jianxing, a villager close to the local government, added Wednesday s vote was “part of the process to hold open, transparent and fair elections.” The election committee will be made up of 11 villagers who will not be allowed to run for next month s election, according to the official Xinhua news agency. The concessions won by Wukan residents are seen as a rare victory for protesters in authoritarian China. They had protested for months in autumn last year against their allegedly corrupt leaders, whom they accused of abusing their power to profit from land in the village. But it was not until detained community leader Xue Jinbo died in police custody in December after allegedly being beaten that their anger boiled over, prompting a tense, drawn-out stand-off with police and officials. The Guangdong provincial government eventually capitulated as their case made headlines, and decided to intervene on behalf of the villagers. Following investigations into corruption, the government conceded that villager’s grievances were reasonable and that closed elections for village leaders last year were invalid.