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Packet of cigarettes can buy rural vote

By Mark O'Neill in Beijing, South China Morning Post, 10 March 2001

A packet of cigarettes, a shirt or an umbrella can be the price of a vote in rural China and experts say electoral corruption will get worse.

The deteriorating situation is caused by poverty and the low calibre of representatives, a weak legal system and concentration of power in the hands of a few officials.

The official press has reported many cases, such as that of Ning Baoan, former chief of the planning bureau of Yuncheng city in Shanxi province, who wanted to pay 1,000 yuan (HK$940) to more than half of the 400 members of the local People's Congress to choose him as vice-mayor.

In January, the Legal Daily reported prosecutors had detained Jiang Jianzhong, the deputy chief of Ji county in Shanxi province, for paying 500 yuan to 40 members of the county People's Congress to vote for him. Only one reported the bribe to the authorities, as the other 39 considered it normal behaviour.

In China, the only direct elections are at village level. Those running for higher posts are chosen by a limited number of representatives. It is their votes that candidates need to buy.

Cai Dingjian, a professor at the China University of Politics and Law, said: For a long time, electoral corruption will increase and not diminish. This is the price we have to pay to improve China's democracy and the system of people's deputies.

This was because the number of elected posts was increasing and the laws and regulations, with the necessary punishments, had not kept pace, he said.

The quality of the representatives is poor and they do not have a sense of responsibility towards the public, he said.

Professor Cai said that the 500 yuan paid in Ji county was more than enough to secure a vote. In other places, candidates gave a packet of cigarettes, a shirt, a tea set or a foldable umbrella for a vote. This is due to the poverty of the representatives and their lack of democratic awareness.

In its latest edition, the China News weekly published an interview with one of the 40 deputies who took the 500 yuan.

She said she was chosen as a deputy in April 1998 but did not know which district she represented and had never met the people who voted for her. Asked why she had become a deputy, she said that she met the right qualifications.

Jiang, the man who paid the bribes and is in police custody, claims he did nothing wrong, that giving such presents was normal and that he was the victim of a political struggle.

Wang Guixiu, a professor at the Communist Party central school said that to solve the problem, China must accelerate its pace of political reform.

Our market economy has developed considerably but the reform of our political system lags seriously behind. There is concentration of power, with a high concentration in the hands of leaders. . . The benefits power brings to an individual make some people mad to obtain it.