site: HOME > > Economic > Opinion
What it Means to Vote in China

By Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a public interest lawyer and activist
Economic Observer Online
Nov 8, 2011
Translated by Zhu Na
Original article:

On November 8, Beijing residents were asked to vote for their local People's Congress representatives, but what does it really mean to vote in China?

First we need to understand what kind of institution the National People's Congress (NPC) is. The current state of affairs is a long way from what appears in our constitution. According to Article 57 of China's Constitution, the NPC is the institution with the "highest authority" in the land. Other provisions in the constitution note that Local People's Congresses at various levels also have the right to enact local laws and regulations, to elect and recall mayors, chief justices and prosecutors at county and city level and they also have the authority to decide on other major issues like the government's budget and economic and social planning. If we look at it from the point of view of the legal powers given to the representatives of China's various People's Congresses, then they are really just parliaments, often with more power than other parliaments around the world.

However, in reality, the People's Congress is often dismissed as being little more than a "rubber stamp," with most representatives appearing to not to care about public affairs, and also having a reputation for being very obedient, voting for who they're told to vote for and passing budgets that they've been instructed to pass.

Take Beijing's Haidian District as an example. In January 2007, the Haidian District People's Congress passed a 10 billion yuan budget, which included 2 billion yuan earmarked for a project that aimed to restore the Cuihu Wetlands (翠湖湿地). It was later revealed that this so-called "Cuihu National Wetland" was nothing but a ploy to strip farmers of their land and fill it with water. How did such a budget manage to get passed? At the same meeting, the head of the district was elected by a handsome majority. However, on that very day, the CPC's Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC) began to investigate the newly elected head of the district, and within a year, he had been sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve. Most representatives don't care what kind of person the head of the district is, whether or not he's competent, whether or not he is corrupt - as long as the candidate has been recommended by the next level up, then they'll vote him in.

Why are representatives so weak and why won't they take responsibility for their decisions? When we look at it from the perspective of locally elected representatives at the district and county level, the fundamental explanation is that there is both a lack of campaigning and also voters don't take it seriously.

Candidates who are passionate about public affairs lack the opportunity to introduce themselves to the voters, as a result, voters don't learn about these suitable candidates and thus they have no chance of being elected. Voters are organized to vote in an atmosphere of disappointment and indifference, it doesn't really matter whether the candidate is qualified or not, just mark the ballot and it's out of the way. The result is that those who are voted into office are the candidates that have been officially recommended or are the heads of the work place - they might well be good people or even good leaders, but they're not necessarily going to be good parliamentary representatives.

At least for representative at district and county levels, Chinese law states that they must be elected through directly elections and each voter has the opportunity to cast his or her own precious vote. If as voters we are to take the decision of how to cast our ballot seriously, we must first understand what the legal responsibilities of a delegate to the congress are. The important role of a delegate is to elect and supervise, to decide on budgetary matters and other big issues, the People's Congresses are "authoritative institutions" and not simply a forum or public hearing at which the opinions of the people are represented, it's a "decision making body," not just a place for various proposals and suggestions.

If we want to take our vote seriously, than we need to properly weigh the decision of who to vote for, it's not simply a case of marking the ballot and getting it over with, but rather to seriously consider which candidate is more concerned about public affairs, is more willing to carry out their duties in accordance with the law, is more suitable for being a representative and then vote for the one that you personally a most satisfied with.

If you have the option of voting for three representatives, but you're only really satisfied with one, then just vote for that one and if you don't really understand the others, you can abstain, or if you want to vote against them, that's ok too.

According to the legal regulations, voters can also "vote for an alternative candidate" - that is, aside from the official candidates,  when choosing to vote against another candidate, you can add the name of another citizen to the section on the ballot left blank for "alternative candidates."

Even under the existing system, if every citizen was to take the exercising of their right to vote seriously, and voted into power representatives who performed their duties in accordance with the law, at the very least, district and county level governments around the country would undergo a huge transformation.

If more than half of the elected representatives performed their duties in accordance with the law, then these congresses really would become "authoritative institutions," budgets would be carefully vetted, and if delegates weren't satisfied they'd be rejected.

Representatives could also jointly nominate the head of the district, the chief of the local court and prosecutors office and then the constitution really would have taken effect - government would operate under the supervision of these local congresses and would thus also truly be held to account by the people, leading to a sharp decline in social tension and conflicts.

Every voter has a responsibility to say farewell to the era of rubber stamps and to take part in the establishment of a genuinely harmonious society.

Related Stories


Comments(The views posted belong to the commentator, not representative of the EO)

username: Quick log-in

EO Digital Products

Multimedia & Interactive