Pioneering survey gives the people a voice

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 November, 2003, 12:00am

Public opinion is being given more importance, experts say

The publication of the only public opinion survey on the performance of mainland politicians is a sign the authorities are beginning to take a greater interest in what the people think, commentators say.

The survey, carried out by Beijing-based Horizon Research, a private market research company, polled 5,613 urban and rural residents asking them what they though of their local mayor or county leader.

The results were published this week without comment in the official state media, with Beijing's Wang Qishan receiving the greatest attention as the country's most popular mayor, with an approval rating of 70.5 per cent.

But more negative statistics, including the fact that more than 80 per cent of rural residents polled thought their representative could be open to corruption, were omitted from the press reports.

Observers insist the fact that the survey was allowed to take place at all was significant.

'This kind of survey should be encouraged,' said Xue Lan, deputy dean of the School of Public Policy at Tsinghua University, 'because it can present the government with a clearer picture of public opinion'.

The survey was carried out in major cities for the first time last year; this year it was extended to include rural areas.

Yuan Yue, president of Horizon Research, believes taking such a survey was made possible by the greater openness and flexibility of the current regime. 'Ten years ago, we could only talk about such issues in private,' he said.

Mr Yuan said there was a stark difference in the level of confidence in public figures held by rural and urban residents.

'I was surprised by the results of the survey which showed that only 19.6 per cent of rural residents thought their local leader could not be corrupted,' he said. 'The average figure for city mayors was over 26 per cent, which is also low but not quite as bad.'

Just as surprising, only a third of those surveyed could name their mayor or county leader.

'Many people who knew nothing of their representative still thought they could be open to corruption,' Mr Yuan said. 'The assumption was that power and corruption go hand in hand.'

Xia Xueluan, a sociologist with Peking University, said: 'The survey itself is progress in terms of freedom of speech and democratic supervision.'

'But it has also revealed a crisis of trust between the people and their leaders.'

Respondents to the survey were asked: If you could vote for a new mayor or county leader would you vote for your current representative? All those who claimed they 'would' or 'might' vote for their current representative were counted in the 'yes' group.

Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng ranked second, behind Beijing's Wang Qishan, with a yes vote of 67.4 per cent.

The mayor of Chengdu was third with 65.1 per cent.


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