Suggestions On How To Improve Grassroots Elections in China

While the annual CPPCC/NPC meetings are still underway in Beijing, and the capital’s police are busy controlling petitioners, Beijing-based blogger and former journalist Ling Cangzhou (凌沧洲) published an open letter online to express his concerns and suggestions to the CPPCC/NPC representatives, partially translated by CDT’s Linjun Fan:

I gave four recommendations to improve the procedures of grassroots elections in China in the article “Several suggestions on election practices,” published by the Beijing Evening News on December 28, 1998.

Here are my suggestions. First, the timing of the elections needs to be adjusted. Second, citizens should be assigned to polling stations based on their residential addresses, rather than that of their work units. Third, candidates should communicate more with the electorate. They should meet and talk with voters, rather than just posting some documents on the wall. Fourth, the voting results should be posted for the public to view after each election, including the number of votes each candidate gets, the total number of ballots cast, etc.

However, ten years has passed since then, and we have barely seen any improvement or transparency in the procedures of grassroots elections in China. Have any voting results, which are of utmost concern to citizens, been published and discussed in the newspaper after the elections? I’d like to ask any People’s Representative: How many times have you met with the voters? How many times have you talked to them, or shaken their hands? How many people in the electorate do you know? Or do the voters know who they’ve cast their ballots for?

Ten years have passed, and there are still very few independent candidates, very few campaign offices, very few campaign personnel. We’ve barely seen any campaign pamphlets posted or handed out in streets, not to mention speeches and debates, which could help citizens to know their candidates better and cast their ballots at their will. Those who have been observing China’s democratization can’t help but lament: How slow this snail is moving! Its tardiness could set a world record.

I led a group of reporters to cover the “Two Meetings,” the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, when I was working as the Assistant Managing Editor of Beijing Entertainment Messenger in the spring of 2006. A few things impressed me most while I was at the meetings. All news stories needed be approved and signed by officials of the Propaganda Department before they could be published. It’s impossible to publish any unfavorable article about the government. Most news articles were merely eulogies to officials. The speeches of the People’s Representatives were mostly expressions of their loyalty to the government, without any substantial content.

I was also impressed by the cooks, who prepared delicious meals for the representatives every day during the meetings. If reporters just wrote about the menu of the dishes served to the representatives, instead of covering the procedures and contents of the meetings, the circulation rate of their newspaper could be considerably increased.

If the representatives and delegates believe that they are all elected and supported by the people, they should be confident to tell the public their expenditures during the meetings.

There is no clear definition in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China on the status and responsibilities of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Most ordinary citizens don’t know how various levels of political consultative delegates come about. Why put it together with National People’s Congress and call them the “Two Meetings”? Are CPPCC delegates elected by the people? Or is the membership just an honorary title that’s given by those in power as a reward to those excelling in various walks of life?

As for some young athletes and pop stars, I don’t deny that they have made remarkable achievements in their areas, but do they represent the will of the people in his field? What procedures have been followed to elect them? Or are they especially good at providing political consultation?

It’s necessary to announce to the public the expenditure of the meetings, which have about 5,000 attendees. It’s the taxpayers’ right to know. We all know that the efficiency of a meeting decreases as the number of attendees increases. Since our Constitution calls for streamlining of government departments, why don’t we think about reducing the number of representatives and delegates as well?

It’s important for the representatives of the National People’s Congress to be permanent and professional. It doesn’t matter whether we have a large number of them or not. It would be ideal if we citizens can directly elect our representatives. For a country as large as China, I think it’s enough for us to have 1,000 congressional representatives at most. They should be able to take up the legislation and supervision work if the number is reduced to merely 500 or 600.

Are there some tricks behind the large number of representatives? Perhaps many people across the world have already been clear about them.

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