Elections in the People's Republic of China

Elections in the People's Republic of China

Elections in the People's Republic of China take two forms. Direct elections occur for village councils in designated rural areas, and for the local People's Congress in all areas. All other levels of the People's Congress up to the National People's Congress, the national legislature, are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the level immediately below. Executive positions, including the President, the State Council and provincial governors are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the relevant level. While universal franchise is guaranteed in principle by the Constitution, in practice the Communist Party of China maintains full control of the entire electoral process. In practice, only members of the Communist Party of China, eight allied parties (the "democratic parties"), and sympathetic independent candidates are ever elected in any election beyond the local village level.

Direct elections

Direct elections in the People's Republic of China take two forms: elections for village leader in selected rural villages and elections for local people congresses.

Since taking power in 1978, Deng Xiaoping experimented with direct democracy at the grassroots level. Villages have been traditionally the lowest level of government in China's complicated hierarchy of governance. In the early 1980s, a few southern villages began implementing "Vote for your Chief" policies, in which free elections are intended to be held for the election of a village chief, who holds a lot of power and influence traditionally in rural society. Many of these elections were successful, involving candidate debates, formal platforms, and the initiation of secret ballot boxes. The suffrage was universal, with all citizens above age 18 having the right to vote and be elected. Such an election comprises usually over no more than 2000 voters, and the first-past-the-post system is used in determining the winner, with no restriction on political affiliation. The elections are always supervised by a higher level of government, usually by a County Government.

Under the Organic Law of the Village Committees, all of China's approximately 1 million villages are expected to hold competitive, direct elections for subgovernmental village committees. A 1998 revision to the law called for improvements in the nominating process and enhanced transparency in village committee administration. The revised law also explicitly transferred the power to nominate candidates to villagers themselves, as opposed to village groups or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) branches. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, as of 2003 the majority of provinces had carried out at least four or five rounds of village elections.

Indirect legislative elections

The directly elected local people's congresses form the foundation tier of the indirectly elected system of people's congresses, each of which forms the legislature at the corresponding level of government. Each people's congress then conducts an election for the next higher level of people's congress, culminating in elections for the national legislature: the National People's Congress ("Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui").

Deputies to local people's congresses of provinces, centrally administered municipalities, and cities divided into districts are elected by the people's congress at the next lower level. Deputies to people's congresses of counties, cities not divided into districts, municipal districts, townships, ethnic townships, and towns are elected directly by their constituencies to five-year terms. The local congresses each have corresponding standing committees that exercise legislative authority when the full congresses are not in session. Some townships and urban areas also have experimented with direct elections of local government leaders, plus local people's congresses have the constitutional authority to recall the heads and deputy heads of government at the provincial level and below. The constitution does not specify how deputies to the people's congresses of the autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures, and autonomous counties are chosen. Elected leaders, however, remain subordinate to the corresponding CCP secretary, and most are appointed by higher-level party organizations. Although China's constitution guarantees suffrage for citizens age 18 and older, the CCP maintains a close watch on electoral democracy at the grassroots levels and controls the outcome of elections at other levels.

The NPC has 3,000-3,500 members, elected for five year terms. Deputies are elected (over a three month period) by the people's congresses of the country's 23 provinces, five autonomous regions and the four municipalities directly under the Central Government, the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau and the armed forces. The size of each college of delegates is related to the number of electors in the constituency. 36 deputies are elected in Hong Kong.

Although there is no legal requirement for either membership in or approval by the Communist Party of China, in practice the membership of the higher people's congresses are determined by the Party. It is possible for a dedicated person to campaign for and be elected at the lowest level of people's congresses, and this occurs from time to time. However because of the series of indirect elections between the local people's congress and the NPC, it is practically impossible for a person to be elected to provincial or national people's congresses against the wishes of the Communist Party. Furthermore, while legally responsible for the oversight of the administration, it is difficult for a person in a people's congress without party support to exercise effective control or power over the administration of the executive at a given level.

Officially, the People's Republic of China is a multi-party socialist state under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. In practice, the power of parties other than the Communist Party of China is severely limited due to the personnel structure outlined above. Because none of the minor parties have independent bases of support and rely on Communist Party approval for appointment to positions of power, none have the capacity to serve as a true opposition party. In order to represent different segments of the population and bring in technical expertise, the CCP does ensure that a significant minority of people's congress delegates either minor party or non-party delegates, and there is some tolerance of disagreement and debate in the legislative process where this does not fundamentally challenge the role of the Communist Party.

No parties other than the Communist Party and the eight so-called 'democratic' parties - all members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference - were allowed at the last elections, which took place from October 2002 to March 2003.

Indirect executive elections

The people's congress at each level of government - other than the village level in rural areas, which hold direct elections - elects candidates for executive positions at that level of government. While some cities and provinces have experimented with competitive elections, most positions are still filled through single-candidate approval votes.

There are two forms of single-candidate approval votes. For "elected" positions such as the President of the People's Republic of China, delegates to the National People's Congress may approve or disapprove the nomination, or may write in the name of another candidate. The single candidate is usually nominated by or with the approval of the Communist Party of China. In the 2008 election for the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, for example, president Hu Jintao, the only candidate, received a majority of approval votes. However, some candidates chose to write in other names; the most popular write-in candidate was former premier Zhu Rongji. For "appointed" positions requiring the approval of the People's Congress, such as the premier and cabinet ministers, delegates may either approve or disapprove of the appointment. The single candidate is usually nominated by or with the approval of the Communist Party. Relevant laws provide that if the single candidate does not receive more than 50% approval, the position is left vacant until the next session of the People's Congress. This rarely happens in practice, and has never happened at the national level.

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