I would expect the reader’s response to the above headline to be something like: “Voting? In China? What is there to talk about?” Point taken. But even if we’re not seeing popular democratic elections, it’s worth noting that Chinese media have been talking about “election” (选举), or xuanju, in the selection of delegates to the 17th National Congress. And this topic is critical as we tackle the issue of political reform in China. So what are we looking for exactly?
The measure Chinese media are talking about is the ratio (the “differential rate” (差额) or cha’e) between delegates nominated by party standing committees at various levels to the total number of National Congress seats available. The term used in Chinese is “differential voting” (差额选举), or cha’e xuanju.
[The Beijing Times reports in November 2006 on the increase in the differential rate for the 17th National Congress.]
For appointment of delegates to the upcoming 17th National Congress, there was reportedly a five percentage point rise in the differential rate, 15 percent as opposed to 10 percent, from the 16th National Congress back in 2002. That means, basically, that for every 100 seats available for this year’s congress, an additional 15 nominees were chosen (by party committees at various levels) and eventually pared down by party members (any who chose to vote) at those levels.
On August 2 this year, a list of all 2,217 delegates to the 17th National Congress was made public through newspapers across the country [See image below], a historic first for China. Given what we know, the People’s Daily list represents the results after 15 percent of nominees were removed in the differential rate process (被”差”掉). They were pared down, in other words, from an initial pool of around 2,550 nominees.
[The list of delegates to the 17th National Congress is made public in the official People’s Daily on August 2, 2007.]
The issue of “differential election” is still a very sensitive one in China. When Guangdong’s Southern Weekend ran an article on August 9 detailing the process of delegate “election” for the upcoming party congress, Central Propaganda Department Vice-director Li Dongsheng (李东生) was reportedly furious. The paper was formally criticized, and Li said: “Is this really something you think you can look into?!”
How significant is the recent increase in the differential rate? At this point, it is more symbolic than anything else. Consider that with 30 provinces and autonomous regions in China, there are just over 300 differential candidates, or an average of around 11 per province. That means that in the vast majority of voting districts (county or city, etc.) there are no additional candidates. While party members are theoretically tasked with “electing” their delegates, there are in most cases no real decisions to be made.
But that doesn’t mean the differential rate is worthless as a measure of political change in China. It should be noted that the differential rate for the 13th National Congress, during which Zhao Ziyang gave his political report, was 20 percent.
As the 17th Congress opens, the following questions are worth asking:
*Is a primary election held for members of the Central Party Committee and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection?
*If there is a primary election, will the number of candidates exceed the number of posts (是否实行差额预选)? What is the differential rate? Is the list of candidates made public?
*In the formal selection process will differential elections be held? What is the differential rate? Is the list of candidates made public? Will media have access to the names of those candidates not chosen for posts?
*How will the election results be publicized? With a list of names and votes cast? Or simply names?
*How will members of the Political Bureau and the Central Secretariat be selected? Will there be a primary election? If so, will it be open?
*Will differential elections be held for members of the Political Bureau and the Central Secretariat?
*Will any language about differential election appear in Hu Jintao’s political report, or in amendments to the party constitution?
(Qian Gang, October 3, 2007)
[Translated by David Bandurski]
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