China to Rollout Grassroots Level People’s Congress Direct Elections Again

作者:Asia Weekly 发表时间:2011-5-11 14:35:53

Li Fan - Director and researcher at World and China Institute, Beijing. He holds a graduate degree from Department of History from Beijing Normal University. He was an assistant researcher at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Political Sciences. He pursued his Master’s degree in Political Science at Ohio State University between 1984 and 1989 and served as a researcher at the Institute of International Studies at the State Council. He authored eight books including, Quiet Revolution – Contemporary Chinese Civil Society and Innovation and Reform: Reform of the System for Election of Township and Town Heads. He also edited the Report on the Development of Grassroots Democracy in China.

China to Rollout Grassroots Level People’s Congress Direct Elections Again

From July this year to the end of next year, China will rollout direct grassroots level People’s Congress (LPC) deputy elections at district, township and county levels, it is the only channel for Chinese citizens to participate politically, it is estimated that tens of thousands of independent candidates, and self-nominated candidates will spring up, the administration issued 26 bans including “no mention of campaigning” to avoid adding confusion in this sensitive time.

A new round of Chinese LPC deputy elections will begin from July 1, 2011 to the end of December 2012; direct elections at district, county and township levels will be held across the country. The amendment to Electoral Law a year ago fine-tuned this small progress towards democratization. At present, with social contradictions mushrooming and waves of Jasmine Revolution sweeping, LPC deputy elections at the grassroots level as the only channel for Chinese citizens to participate politically, understandably drawing attention from all sides. Many academics predict that in this election, tens of thousands of independent candidates and self-nominated candidates will spring up. The administration already announced 26 bans including “no campaigning” and “no mentioning of independent candidates” in an attempt to keep a tight rein on the inevitable election and to avoid adding confusion in this sensitive time. The local Chinese media has provided zero coverage of the election and no traces of election can be found online either.

The Director of World and China Institute (WCI), Li Fan of Beijing is a long-time political expert on Chinese election issues. He said in an April 12 interview, “Based on my understanding now, there will be far more independent candidates running in this year’s LPC deputy elections than the last round. In the last election, the local government defied the law and in every way possible thwarted candidates from running and sabotaged people’s political participation. At present, social contradictions are more explosive than before and there is no outlet for public opinion and conflict with the local government is more common. With Jasmine Revolutions sweeping across Africa and Middle East, China is in a similar situation in terms of social contradictions, in the sense that the general public finds it hard to express their opinion which leads to social turmoil, something that no one wants to see.”

Li Fan observes some new phenomenon around the world today. The Singapore General Election is around the corner. In the past, the government tried every means possible to block the opposition party’s entry into Parliament. There is but one opposition party member in the current Parliament, the result is a one-party-dictatorship. And it is dubbed by many as “the Singaporean style,” which is often referred to by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). And Singapore has made some reform changes in elections, for example, it has expanded the constituencies and taken in the opposition party into Parliament. Basically speaking, Singapore is evolving from a “one-party-dictatorship” to “one-party-dominance,” and while few opposition party members make it into the Parliament, it is a kind of progress after all. In China, thwarting independent candidates and not allowing a single independent candidate to win like the last election cycle is not going to fly in the current climate, there should be some leeway for different voices. For China to catch up to the world, letting ordinary citizens to come forward to run in the election and allowing the grassroots to have difference voices can bring nothing but good to Chinese development.

Li Fan observed Third World country elections in Jordan, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nigeria. He said every single one of them was better than elections in China. Nigeria is extremely poor but in their presidential election, they had NGOs conducting election training country-wide and the election was strictly monitored and each polling station was in good order. Voters voted enthusiastically, way beyond his imagination. The polling station should close at 5 pm but as long as voters arrived before then, they were free to wait for their turn and some lined up until 7 or 8 o’clock in a very orderly manner. These countries are known to be poor and they have a large number of voters with low education. Yet they vote by direct election in the presidential and congressional elections. “So the problem really isn’t that illiterate people cannot vote, it is a matter of whether the people are allowed to vote, uneven economic development is only an excuse. There are 150 million Indonesian voters who vote for their president by direct election. There have been two elections in the country with the world’s largest direct election. Illiterate people participated in the elections, the photographs of the candidates were printed on the ballot paper, it was as simple as voters recognizing the person they wanted to vote for. If a voter wants to vote for a political party, a political party logo can be on the ballot, you can even use Arabic numbers. The problem of illiterate voting has long been solved. China just doesn’t want to do it.”

There are a few grassroots level democratic elections in China now - Urban Community Residents’ Committees and Village Administrative Committees, both under the conduction of State. In addition, there also has the Home Owners’ Committee elections in cities, conducted by the neighborhoods and not the government. These three kinds of grassroots level elections are not connected to any government agencies, the only grassroots level elections to do with government institutions is LPC deputy election. According to law, the heads of grassroots level government are not voted directly by the people but by LPC deputies who are returned by direct election. Cities have a level of its own, that is, district-level direct election, the rural area is divided into two levels, that is, county and townships . The 1979 Electoral Law amendment allowed for campaigning, which was the most progressive so far. In the 1980s, a dozen college students in Beijing ran a strong LPC deputy campaign as independent candidates. According to the rule, a candidate can be nominated by no less than 10 voters, and academics referred to this type of candidate as independent. The campaign at that time got the government nervous and the 1982 Electoral Law amendment got rid of campaigning, which was a big step backward for Chinese grassroots level democratic elections.

Baby Steps Forward for Grassroots-level Elections

Li Fan said some amendments were made to the Electoral law in 2004 and 2010 and tiny progress was made. For example, the 2004 Electoral Law amendment stipulates that in the event that there is dispute over which candidate is the winner, there can be a runoff, which means voting a second time is allowed. This is reasonable; runoff elections are more democratic and fair than “deliberation” or other means. The 2004 amendment states “runoff election can be conducted,” while the 2010 amendment states “runoff election should be conducted,” which is obviously progress. The 2004 Electoral law stipulates that at the request of the voters, the Election Committee can organize a meeting between the voters and the candidates, so to a certain extent, it is some form of campaigning, but the word campaign itself is not allowed. In the 2010 Electoral law amendment it has been changed to “At the request of the voters the Election Committee should organize a meeting between the voters and the candidates.”

Li Fan thinks even when the law is in place, it is often not implemented at the local level, and the main reason is that many candidates are parachuted into the constituencies. According to the law, the Beijing mayor must be an LPC deputy, thus from a grassroots constituency but the local voters have never him. For example, Hu Jintao is an LPC deputy of Jiangsu Province and Li Peng is an LPC deputy of Hainan Province, can anyone imagine them not winning in these constituencies? It would be impossible for them to meet and talk about campaign issues with their voters. But then people would ask, what kind of election is that when candidates do not meet with the voters?

In the 2003 elections, independent candidates sprang up all over the place and there were the Yao Lifa and Lu Banglie incidents. That election overwhelmed the central government, it could not figure out what was going on. Media swarmed to the locations and the academics made high-profile comments. Media coverage was forbidden by the central government in the 2006-2007 elections, the mentioning of independent candidates and self-recommended candidates was banned. Academics were not allowed to observed elections on location. In that election cycle, independent candidates from all locations added up to tens of thousands and there were as many as 20,000 in Beijing alone.

Li Fan says the significance of the LPC deputy elections lies in its power to recommend government officials for appointment; LPC deputies serve the function of organizing the government. A provincial-level PC deputy is elected by village and township-level PC delegates, therefore, the significance of grassroots-level LPC deputy lies in deciding the composition of officials at grassroots level while deciding the next higher level PC deputies and that higher level of PC deputy will in turn decide the composition of officials at provincial and municipal governments.

Li Fan thinks that under the current socio-political atmosphere there is more desire for political participation on the people’s part than the institutional setup allows for. In recent years, the conflict between local government and people escalated and confrontation became more common; one of the solutions is to let people choose their own LPC deputy to monitor the government. The elected LPC deputy can then question the government. Academics predict that independent candidates from the new round of LPC elections beginning July will come close to ten times more than about 100,000 people in the 2006-2007 elections, This is the only access Chinese citizens have in political participation. Though quite many voters remain indifferent to the election as they think the government is merely going through the motions of election, others believe it would be possible for those who run and win to monitor the government; it is a means of check and balance. Voters may not be able to directly vote for their government officials, but they can vote for their LPC deputy and to have their desired LPC deputy monitored government officials on their behalf. When these delegates make criticism at people’s assembly meetings, officials will have to lend an ear.

“Running in the LPC election is a way of expressing desire to politically participate, when you deny me of this political participation, I would challenge you, hoping that you’ll expand the institution for participation. If you don’t give, it would have repercussions on social and political stability, or you allow me to have more access to political participation. The Chinese people are trying to resolve social issues within the institutional framework but it’s a closed system, so the people are forced to act outside the system, which is rather dangerous. I believe the grassroots level election should open up, letting the people win a bit would be a means of people venting out frustrations,” Li Fan said.

Li Fan said in the last LPC elections, the administration issued a directive of 19 bans regarding campaigning and mentioning of independent candidates, in this election, there are as many as 26 bans. The administration’s attitude is that there is no choice but to implement grassroots level direct elections, so it is best to go through the motions as quickly as possible. The administration takes this imminent a-year-and-a-half election very seriously, especially when a trend of more intense conflict between the people and the local government is observed, the government is worried that if things go wrong, social stability would be jeopardized.

Asia Weekly, April 30