"Donation for election" scandal brings attention to corruption in grass-roots polls

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/12 19:18:39

Villagers in Tancheng county, East China's Shandong Province cast their votes for the village committee.Photo: CFP

Villagers in Tancheng county, East China's Shandong Province cast their votes for the village committee. Photo: CFP

Wang  Yong, a resident of East China's Jiangsu Province, confused a Siying village official after he placed 3 million yuan ($433,910) in cash in front him, saying he would "donate" the money to his home village if he was elected village chief, local media reported Thursday.

The bewildered official, Han Zhujun, the village committee's accountant, said that after deliberating the committee took only 300,000 yuan, providing a receipt to Wang, the Jiangsu-based news outlet xhby.net reported.

Though Wang stressed that his intentions were good and insisted that the money and the election were not linked, the committee returned the money and warned Wang for trying to bribe them.

The news soon went viral on social media and brought public attention back to the issue of village committee elections, which have been repeatedly hit by bribery scandals, according to the report.

About 600 million Chinese farmers - 95 percent of the total - are thought to have participated in the last round of village committee elections in 2013, when most Chinese provinces carried out eight or nine rounds of elections, former vice minister of civil affairs Jiang Li was quoted as saying by the Xinhua News Agency in 2013.

A village committee is composed of three to seven members, including the chairperson and vice-chairpersons. Each committee serves a term of three years.

Radical changes 

He Xuefeng, an expert on rural governance at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, told the Global Times on Thursday that China's village committee elections have experienced radical changes, especially in terms of fairness and justice.

"Bribery was once crazily rampant in suburban and costal areas, especially in developed provinces such as Guangdong, Zhejiang and Fujian, where the value of rural land soared with the development of the real estate industry and the expansion of cities," said He.

"In some areas, millions of yuan were paid to buy votes and persuade other candidates to drop out of elections," he added.

However, the situation changed after China's top discipline watchdog launched an investigation into one of the country's largest election fraud cases in 2014, where 56 provincial legislators in Hengyang, Central China's Hunan Province offered over 110 million yuan in bribes to 518 city lawmakers and 68 local government staff members.

As a result, 518 delegates to the people's congress of Hengyang, Central China's Hunan Province were forced to resign. 

The investigation sent a strong message to grass-roots leaders and candidates, and drew a red line for local officials, warning that not only bribers and recipients can be punished in these cases, but also the local election officials, said He.

Many officials have been jailed because of election bribes, including one from Central China's Henan Province who offered 100 yuan, cooking oil and jujubes for a vote in 2013, local sources told the Global Times on Sunday.

Law and order

In 1998, China released its first election law for village committees, the Organic Law of Village Committees. The Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a document in 2013 to further clarify requirements for election procedures.

However, standards about what counts as a bribe was not clarified and participation in grass-roots elections has remained low in some areas.

Qiang Wei, former Party chief of East China's Jiangxi Province, told news website people.cn in January 2015 that during several on-site inspections, he found that some villagers were not aware of committee elections one day before they took place, saying they would choose whoever they were asked to.

In developing or underdeveloped areas, a villager's decision to run on the election depends on whether the position could bring him a decent life that is at least as good as life as a migrant to a city, said He.

He added that village committees mainly consist of two groups: elders who are unable to get a job in a city and middle-aged people who appreciate the social status the job can give them in their village.

Wang Wenzhang, a professor at the Institute of Social Development at Peking University, told the Global Times on Monday that village committee elections are important to show villagers, which many scholars regard as a vulnerable group in China's system, how to practice their rights.

Meanwhile, the elected committee must be closely supervised by county government and also the voting villagers, so that their power is fairly used, said Wang.


Newspaper headline: Ballot bribery


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