Manipulation in the Local Peoples Congress Deputy General Election
There will be common general elections for 2006-2007 County/Township Level Local People "s Congress Deputy, according to election regulations. County/Township Local People Congress Deputies are to be direct ly elec ted by voters . In the course of direct election, whether the election process is free and fair is an important indicator of Chinese democratization process. In the 2003 Local People"s Congress Deputy elections , we saw active participation by some independent candidates. Their participation was seen as an expression greater awareness of civil rights and pressing need for democracy. Since July 1 st this year, many general elections have begun all around China and will continue until the end of 2007. Wuhan and Shenzhen were the first cities we knew that conducted such elections. Both cities had their elections in September; both witnessed a number of independent candidates (candidates nominated by joint endorsement of voters instead of official endorsement by the government) in the urban voting districts. In Wuhan, where there had been no independent candidate s in 2003, there were over 20 independent candidates this year. The polling day for some voting districts in Wuhan was September 19 th but in others, 26 th and 28 th . All of Shenzhen polled on September 28 th . In Shenzhen and Wuhan, many local officials engaged in manipulation and malpractice in order to stop independent candidates from running for election, which created tremendous pressure for the independent candidates. We tracked down and investigated some of these cases and here we summed up the manipulative behavior with a view to understand the reform needed to create a fair, open and democratic electoral system in future:
A. Voting District Demarcation Problems
The proximity rule should be observed in voting district demarcation but in an urban voting district in Wuhan, there were two villages, A and B, which were 5 kilometers apart but village C, which was on the opposite side of the street of village A was demarcated as another voting district. Moreover, the demarcation was made after the completion of voter registration. In other words, t he administrative unit that manages the voting district first registered the voters, then announced the voter list and only then demarcated the voting district. This was done only to prevent a n independent candidate favored by the urban villagers from becoming a People "s Congress deputy.
B. Voter registration issues
• Voter registration denied
Jiang S han was a legitimate Shenzhen resident. He bought a home there and had residency permit. He has also lived and worked in Shenzhen for a long time. And he transferred his eligibility, according to the related Shenzhen regulation, from the constituency of his residency in Wuhan to that of Shenzhen, instead of voting in Wuhan. But Luo h u District Election Committee would not register him and his wife. Jiang S han complained many times to the election leadership office as well as the Election Committee but to no avail. He resorted to bringing the matter to the Luo h u District Court according to the law. The Luo h u Election Committee was forced to grant them their elector eligibility in the end but Jiang had already missed the boat of becoming a candidate. In Shenzhen, many people like Jiang S han were deprived of their right to vote.
• Threatening voters during voter registration process
A Shenzhen resident Zhou T ao wanted to run for the election but the officials refused to register him and even threatened Zhou T ao that, “We will use the proceedings to get rid of you, there is no way you can get elected”. Zhou T ao gave up.
• No guarantee to the voter"s right to register according to either the place of permanent residency or place of current dwelling
According to election regulations, a voter can choose to register as a voter at either his/her place of permanent residency or place of dwelling. In Wuhan city, a voter who was active in lobbying for homeowners" rights, wanted to run in his community voting district but his residency was with the work unit. In the end, the election authority got in his way and he could only run in the work unit voting district and lost the opportunity to win a seat to the people"s congress where he lived.
• Breaching the voter list requirement
According to election regulations, the final register of voters should be published 20 days before the polling day. But in Shenzhen where resident Jiang S han lived, the final register was not published until 14 days before the polling day. This was an obvious breach of the regulation. This deprived both candidates and voters to get prepared for the election.
• Unfair voter registration
In a community in Shenzhen, a group of homeowners took the initiative to register as voters by asking the Election Working Group for voter registration forms but were refused. But subsequently their property management company got hold of voter registration forms and registered 57 voters collectively. The homeowners asked the Election Working Group to provide information about this group of voters as they suspected that the group was not eligible but their request was turned down. The homeowners were most concerned that if the property management company had access to voter registration forms, by the same token, it could influence or fix the election process. Such concerns were relayed to election authorities at different levels but no response has been given.
• Reopening voter registration
Even after the voter registration period closed and the candidate list was drawn up and with the candidate who was independently nominated by residents standing strong to win, Yitian Village in Shenzhen suddenly reopened the voter registration under the pretence that some residents said they could not make it in time to register as voters, therefore the voter registration reopened upon approval by the District Election Committee. In the process of registration, election staff asked the prospective voter whom he/she was going to vote for and if the vote was potentially for the independent candidate jointly endorsed by the voters, they would tell the prospective voter that registration period was over and reject his/her registration. Only prospective voters voting for the candidate nominated by the government were allowed to register. In some cases where the staff were compelled to register voters who indicated that they intended to vote for the independent candidate, they would mark the names of the voters who said they would vote for the candidate nominated by residents.
• Arbitrarily defining candidate qualifications
In a Shenzhen voting district , the election authority required the deputy representing the constituency to be a woman of relatively high education background with no party affiliation and it used these criteria to restrict the type of independent candidates who can run.
C. Problems in nomination of candidate s
9. Obstacles faced by independent candidates in obtaining nomination endorsement form
Although according to election regulations, 10 or more voters can jointly endorse and nominate their own candidate, in reality, when voters tried to obtain a nomination form from the Election Working Group, the authority refused by citing all kinds of excuses. In a constituency in Shenzhen, a voter requested a candidate nomination form, but the staff of the Election Working Group stalled the request. In the end, voter s w ere promised that they could pick up the form the next day. On the next day, the authori ty claimed that the period for obtaining the nomination form was over and refused to give out a form. In the same voting district, the election staff required the 10 or more voters who supported an independent candidate to come in person to the office to sign the nomination form and these voters were made to answer questions as to why they supported the particular candidate. Also, they had to make these appointments All these were meant to dissuade candidates from running for election. In Wuhan, independent candidates often faced the same ordeal when they went to obtain a nomination form; some candidates only got their nomination forms as late as two days before independent candidates nomination closed.
10. Voters who endorsed certain candidates were subject to government pressure
In the Wuhan municipality voting district, an independent candidate received nomination by joint endorsement of 13 voters but these voters were approached individually by election officials and were pressured by the officials during these meetings, causing some of the voters to withdraw their endorsement. And the candidate lost his qualification since he failed to secure the nomination by 10 voters. We understood from our visits to some communities that some voters feared official pressure and dared not sign to endorse and nominate candidates.
11. Restricted access to election process information
This was a common problem in the election process. In a constituency in Wuhan, the polling day was set on September 19 th but the voters still had no knowledge about the voting district demarcation and the number of eligible r egistered voters on September 9 th . Voters attempted to ask the election authority for such information many times but were denied answers. Withholding this kind of information prevented voters from effectively participating in their own constituency.
12. Reducing the number of seats
In a university constituency in Wuhan, one independent candidate (a professor) was endorsed by more than 800 voters and should have been listed on the preliminary candidate list. There were two seats in the constituency and there were two candidates nominated by the university. According to the competitive election rule, there should be at least three final candidates in the election. Therefore, the independent candidate should successfully be listed as a candidate and he had a good chance of winning. But in the end, the university announced that there would be only two final candidates – the two nominated by the university and it explained that there was actually only one seat for this university constituency of 30,000 people. In order to stop the independent candidate from running, the other seat was suddenly eliminated without explanation.
13. Failing to use primaries to determine final candidates
In a Shenzhen voting district, voters nominated their preliminary candidates by way of joint endorsement by a group of 10 or more voters but the names of these nominated candidates were not made public (according to the regulations on People "s Congress election stipulated by the Guangdong provincial congress , candidate lists should be made public and pri maries should be conducted when there is no consensus on the final candidates But the process for determining final candidates was never made public and no transparent selection process such as a primary was implemented.
D. Campaigning problems
14. Formal candidates were thwarted from campaign activities
In a Shenzhen constituency, no official election meeting was organized for candidates (of whom one was jointly endorsed by voters and was well-supported) to meet with the voters. The Election Committee held no such activity, nor did it allow candidates to arrange such meetings and it also claimed that it was illegal for candidates to arrange such meetings on their own.
15. Detaining candidates who engaged in campaign activities
In a Shenzhen constituency, a candidate was disqualified for engaging in canvassing; in a Wuhan constituency, a voter was locked up for delivering campaign publicity material.
E. Voting problems
16. Early election
Wuhan set down the polling day for Wuchang and Hongshan to be September 19 and September 26 respectively but voting was conducted unannounced one day ahead of time.
17. Using mobile ballot boxes
In Wuhan early election, poll clerks went door-to-door to collect ballots which were dropped into mobile ballot boxes and those boxes were not designated boxes either. On the actual polling day, few voters turned up.
18. Reading the ballot paper
In a university constituency in Wuhan, poll clerks made voters show for whom they had voted and the poll clerks emphatically told the voters to vote for the candidate endorsed by the university.
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