Civic Exchange today released a report entitled, “Election Reform in China: Its Context, Recent Development, and Future” written by LIN Feng. This report looks at the current status of electoral system reform in China and predicts the direction of future development. This is Civic Exchange’s first project to look at national policy issues that are of interest to both national and international communities.
The Fourth Plenum of the 16th National Assembly of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) has already put the establishment of various democratic systems on the agenda and has made it clear that the current political system needs to be reformed. In October 2005, the Chinese Government, for the first time, issued a white paper entitled “Building of Political Democracy in China”. There is wide agreement that it is necessary for China to reform its political system in order to establish a more democratic political system, and it is now an appropriate time to do so.
“We very much hope that the report can be informative to Hong Kong people, who are going through their own trials and tribulations over electoral reforms. The more the people in Hong Kong know about the national experience, the better they may be capable of thinking through challenges in finding their own course in constitutional development,” said Christine Loh, CEO of Civic Exchange.
The report examines the three elements of China’s electoral system including:
a) the electoral system of grassroots autonomous organisations (eg. village residents’ committees);
b) the electoral system of the people’s congresses at all levels; and
c) the electoral system of officials of governmental organs at all levels.
Of the three types of electoral systems, that of grassroots autonomous organisations is different in nature from the other two, which involve the election of members and heads of governmental organs and may affect the governing status of CPC.
“Not only the nature of the electoral system of grassroots autonomous organisations is different, but also the statutory provisions regulating the election of these organisations are not the same. Direct election of grassroots autonomous organisations will resultantly not have a direct impact on the reform of the other two electoral systems. More importantly, the CPC is quite determined to reform the election of village residents’ committees, but its attitude is still uncertain towards the reform of the other two electoral systems,” said LIN Feng, Associate Professor, School of Law, City University of Hong Kong.
The paper indicates that if elections at township and county levels are successful, then direct election can be further expanded gradually up to the National People’s Congress. However, since elections at the lowest two levels are still problematic, the report argues that the current conditions in China are not ready for expansion of direct election. The most important problems include:
a) The elections do not really reflect the choices of voters; and
b) The election organisers still interfere with and influence the elections significantly.
“It is fair to say that basically in most part of China, direct elections of township and county people’s governments are still confirmative elections under the control of the CPC Committees. The expansion of the scope of direct election at these levels will only increase people’s indifference towards the electoral system and cannot help promote democratic elections at all,” LIN added.
Another issue concerning the elections of officials to local governmental organs is that these kinds of elections are actually in direct conflict with the people’s congress system. This is because in law township and county heads can only be elected by the corresponding people’s congresses indirectly. The paper suggests a more feasible approach to handle the situation is to enable local people’s congress to organise or establish the people’s government at the same level by following a parliamentary system and removing the necessity for the people’s congress to elect officials to the people’s government at the same level through formal nomination and voting processes. The advantage of adopting such an approach is that it is consistent with the people’s congress system and can also make the people’s congress system operate at local levels in China.