Village elections, particularly in Fujian; how candidates are nominated; procedure for voting; term of office for elected village officials; accountability of elected village officials to higher levels of government; reports of persons facing penalties for complaining about a corrupt elected village official to a county government that appears to be biased and is protecting that official; whether it is possible under those circumstances for the complainant to obtain redress/protection from the authorities [CHN34158.E]

It is difficult to generalize about village elections in China. Local elections in China occur within a legal context that is determined by Article 111 of the Constitution, by a national Interim Organic Law on Villagers' Councils, which entered into force in 1988 (replaced by a permanent statute in 1998), and finally by legislation and directives at the provincial, prefecture, county and township levels containing specific details of implementation (Renmin Ribao 21 Oct. 1998; Carter Center 5-16 Mar.1997). According to the United States-based Carter Center, which has observed 50 village elections in China in five provinces:

It was largely left to the provinces to develop the regulations to implement the direct elections, and the central government encouraged experimentation. This has meant there are few national standards and a wide range of quality of the practices employed, particularly in the key areas of candidate nomination and use of the secret ballot (ibid., 20 June-3 July 1998).

A Carter Center report provides considerable detail regarding the procedures followed in Fujian in 1997:

The delegation visited Fujian Province from June 23-25, 1998. Arriving in the provincial capital of Fuzhou for briefings and discussions, the team split up and travelled to Xianyou and Xiamen counties, with each team having briefings and discussions with county officials and visiting three villages in each county to conduct interviews and observe the installation of the data gathering system and the transmission of the completed forms.
If Fujian has the most advanced village election system, then most of the credit should go to Zhang Xiaogan, Director of Division of Basic Level Government, Fujian Department of Civil Affairs. With a population of 31 million and 17 million registered voters, Fujian has 83 counties, 971 townships, and 14,801 villages. The first round of village elections in Fujian was in 1984, even before the Organic Law. Six rounds have been held over the past 13 years; in 1984, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1994, and 1997. Each round has deepened democratic progress and the standardization of procedures. In 1989, only 38 percent of the villages completed elections; in 1997, 99.67 percent completed them. Fewer than 9 percent had primaries in 1989 while 77 percent had them in 1997. Most significantly, none of the elections in 1989 used a secret ballot, and 95 percent used it in 1997.
The province has continually experimented and been a model for other provinces. In 1997, the province experimented with a number of novel ideas, including a pre-election fiscal management audit, extensive training of an election cadre of over 500,000 workers, absentee balloting, nominations by groups of five voters, more active campaigning, prohibiting proxy voting, allowing candidates to have monitors observe polling stations, and extending the time to vote to eight hours over the course of the day. The 1997 elections cost 10 million RMB.
During the past decade, the quality of the Village Leaders has improved in terms of education and knowledge of economics. The rate of incumbency has ranged from about 43-52 percent; the rate of party members, who are elected Chairs, increased from 60 to 72 percent.
...
On the visit to the Huli District in Xiamen, there were 11 villages, most of them in semi-urban areas with relatively large populations of about 3,000 people, and relatively high per capita incomes of about 5,700 RMB. The Communist Party is strong in the area and fielded most of the candidates, who competed against each other. In Houfou village, Ye Jian Li ran for party secretary and lost, and so he ran for Village chair and won. He was apparently more popular among the villagers than among the party members. The salaries of the three top officials - the party secretary, the village chair, and the accountant - were roughly the same.
We witnessed several interesting debates between provincial and county officials. The provincial director did not approve of the three-stage voting process whereby the loser of the vote for the Chair could have a second or third try as Vice Chair or Committee Member. He thought this was just a way to allow a small clique in the township to run the entire village, and the county leaders did not approve of his idea of using monitors to observe the election (20 June-3 July 1998).

An earlier Carter Center report provides additional detail regarding election processes in Fujian:

In Fujian, provincial law now provides for a single uniform method of candidate nomination, whereby any group of five or more persons can nominate candidates by a form provided by the Election Committee. The village Representative Assembly then votes in an indirect primary by secret ballot to select two final candidates for Village Committee Chair, and three to six candidates for Village Committee members (5-16 March 1997).

According to Article 11 of the Villager Committee Organization Law, chairs, vice chairs and members of village committees are elected for three year terms. Article 108 of the Constitution states that:

Local people's governments at and above the county level direct the work of their subordinate departments and of people's governments at lower levels, and have the power to alter or annul inappropriate decisions of their subordinate departments and of people's governments at lower levels (Xinhua 4 Nov. 1998).

There are reports of persons facing penalties for complaining about corrupt elected village officials, including circumstances in which it was alleged that a county government was biased and was protecting that official. According to the state-owned Renmin Ribao, in a comment on irregularities in village elections:

[T]he peasant masses are continually appealing to higher authority for help, but in some districts and departments these violations of law are not investigated and handled effectively. There are many reasons for this state of affairs, for instance, violations of law in elections are closely linked to the corrupt behaviour of a few township and village cadres in using their powers for private gain (21 Oct. 1998).

Examples of corruption from outside the election context also exist. In October 1998 it was reported that village and township officials had threatened residents in Xiaotao village, Fujian after the villagers had written an open letter regarding corrupt cadres, a cause that was publicized in a subsequent open letter by a group calling itself Corruption Watch (AFP 14 Oct. 1998a; ibid. 14 Oct. 1998b). The leader of Corruption Watch was reportedly detained and questioned over the incident (ibid.).

In June 1999 AFP reported that 150 peasants had staged a demonstration before the provincial government headquarters in Fuzhou, claiming that corrupt cadres had pocketed compensation money related to the sale of land (15 June 1999).

In terms of redress or compensation available in these circumstances, Xinhua reported in June 1999, in an article regarding the transparency of village affairs, that Fujian was among a number of provinces that had established:

..."village affairs transparency bulletin boards," "village affairs transparency books," and "village affairs transparency walls" and used newspapers, radio and television to make their village affairs transparent (21 June 1999).

There is also relevant legislation in this area. In February 1996 the Regulations on Protecting Accusers was published (Xinhua 15 Feb. 1996). Articles 10 and 11 deal with retaliatory acts taken against accusers, and state that:

Article 10: Under no pretext is any individual or unit allowed to resort to any means of retaliation against the accuser or his relatives, or against the hypothetical accuser.
Anyone instructing others to retaliate against the accuser will be punished for taking retaliation, so will the individual or unit leader who has been instructed to take retaliatory action.
Article 11: Discipline inspection and supervisory institutions must, on the merit of each case, deal with those who resort to retaliation:
1. Discipline inspection and supervisory institutions must, within the framework of their authority, immediately stop and deal with any ongoing retaliation, or they must immediately deliver the case to the relevant department.
2. Discipline inspection and supervisory institutions must, within the framework of their authority, redress a wrong case in which the accuser has been wrongly treated as a result of retaliatory action against him, or they should refer it to the relevant department for correction.
3. Discipline inspection and supervisory institutions must, within the framework of their authority, handle the case in which the accuser suffers from physical injuries or loss of reputation and property as result of retaliatory action against him, or they should deliver the case to the relevant department for appropriate handling.

Although declining to comment on a specific incident, the Research Director at the Hong Kong office of Human Rights in China, made the following comments regarding redress for complainants in correspondence with the Research Directorate:

Based on press reports and some individual cases we have dealt with, retaliation against petitioners complaining about corruption is very common, and it is the rare case when higher authorities would intervene to protect someone who is facing such retaliation (29 Mar. 2000).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References


Agence France Presse (AFP). [Hong Kong, in English]. 15 June 1999. "150 Peasants Protest Corruption in Fujian." (FBIS-CHI-1999-0615 15 June 1999/WNC)

_____. 15 October 1998a. "PRC Police Detain Corruption Watch Leader." (FBIS-98-287 14 Oct. 1998/WNC)

_____. 15 October 1998b. "Civil Group Sends Open Letter Over Cadre Corruption." (FBIS-98-287 14 Oct. 1998/WNC)

Carter Center [Atlanta]. 20 June 20-3 July 1998. Report of the Fifth Mission on Chinese Village Elections. http://www.cartercenter.org/CHINA/dox/reports/6798.html [Accessed 30 Mar. 2000]

_____. 5-16 March 1998. Carter Center Delegation Report: Village Elections in China. http://www.cartercenter.org/CHINA/dox/reports/6798.html [Accessed 30 Mar. 2000]

China. Constitution of the People's Republic of China. 1993. Translated by Charles D. Paglee, Chinalaw Web. http://www.qis.net/chinalaw/lawtran1.htm [Accessed 30 Mar. 1999]

Renmin Ribao [Beijing, in Chinese]. 21 October 1998. Li Du. "Achievements, Problems in Rural Democracy." (FBIS-CHI-98-304 31 Oct. 1998/WNC)

Research Director, Human Rights in China, Hong Kong. 29 March 2000. Correspondence.

Xinhua [Beijing, in Chinese]. 21 June 1999. Zhang Yan and Kong Xiangying. "Article on Transparency of Village Affairs." (FBIS-CHI-1999-0623 21 June 1999/WNC)

_____. 4 November 1998. "Text of Village Election Law." (FBIS-CHI-98-311 7 Nov. 1998/WNC)

_____. 15 February 1996. "Text of Regulations on Protecting Accusers." (FBIS-CHI-96-306 15 Feb. 1996/WNC)