Popularity poll for officials pulled over graft claims

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am

Voting in a text message and phone poll to select the city's 10 most popular law enforcement officials was suspended yesterday in Yongzhou , Hunan , after public complaints about alleged profiteering and corruption in the ballot.

The three-month poll was due to end today but the organiser, the Yongzhou Politics and Law Committee, said vote counting and the awarding of prizes would be postponed because some citizens and media had questioned the activity.

The committee had nominated 32 candidates from the city's court, procuratorate and police agencies and asked the public to vote for their favourite by calling hotlines, sending mobile text messages or posting in a newspaper form.

But each minute-long phone call and text message cost the sender 1 yuan, about nine times the usual price.

Telecommunications providers had received more than 2 million votes by yesterday, with a deputy head of a local district court leading the field with more than 170,000 votes.

The election had been compared with the popular Super Girl entertainment contest and had attracted strong public criticism over the past few weeks. Many people accused officials of buying votes and using vast sums of public money to vote for themselves.

Retired official Wang Zhigang said the election was ridiculous because he believed few ordinary citizens would be interested in taking part in the expensive poll and the public knew little about the candidates.

An official from a local court told the Xiaoxiang Morning Post, which is based in Changsha , that many candidates had ordered their staff to vote, bribed friends to cast ballots and even spent public funds buying telephone cards to register votes for themselves.

'Only about 200,000 people across our city would be able to vote if farmers in rural villages and citizens without telephones were excluded,' the official said. 'Where did the 2 million votes come from?'

The city has a population of about 5.6 million.

Some citizens even accused the committee of making deals to split profits from text message services with telecommunication operators.

'We would be so stupid if we fell for this trick,' said Lin Yifang , an employee of a local advertising firm. '[The authorities] may get a percentage of the service revenue, which was at least 200 million yuan.'

But the organiser denied the charges and said the new approach could lead to a fair election. 'The public, not our leaders, hold the power to decide ... who is the best candidate,' committee chief Tang Guoyu said.

Mr Tang also denied there was corruption in the voting, saying they had set up discipline inspection groups and found no infractions of laws or regulations.

He admitted the authority would get some money from the service's profits, but he also said the money would be spent on promoting the poll and awards for winners.