Media hail election contest played out before the public
Mainland media gave generous coverage to the unprecedented public pitches of 20 candidates vying for four county Communist Party secretary positions in Guiyang yesterday, hailing it as a 'breakthrough in political reform'. Observers were more cautious in their optimism.
Wheeled out as the latest demonstration of the party's willingness to expand 'intra-party democracy', part of the day-long campaign in the provincial capital of Guizhou was broadcast live on China Central Television's news channel.
The 20 candidates had been shortlisted from 82 since May. Each had to give a campaign speech and answer two questions from a nine-person panel of high-ranking provincial party officials and academics. They had to answer a further question from the floor - consisting of representatives from the local government, the people's congress, the political and consultative conference and grass-roots party branches.
While more open elections had been held in recent years for top government posts, usually at vice or assistant level, this was the first time a party secretary would be chosen in such a public manner, experts said.
Bureaucratic decisions are made by the dual leadership of a government chief and a party secretary of the same rank, but it is an accepted fact that the party official makes the final call. And the usual way to elect these party leaders is through internal nominations and appointments by senior party members.
Some observers said it was too early to cheer the events as a forerunner of a widespread practice and wrong to call it a breakthrough.
The election rules limited eligible nominees to county level cadres, and they were shortlisted through 'democratic nominating votes' cast by a vaguely defined group of party members supposedly selected from a cross-section of society.
The election is in five parts - the nominations, written candidate reports on the county they wish to head, the televised performance, public opinion and the usual opinions of superiors within the party.
Like the democratic nominations, it was unclear from the reports how public opinion would be assessed.
'This is a significant step in that this is the first time there is a competitive election of party secretaries in such a public manner,' said Liu Xutao , professor of public policy at the National School of Administration. 'This is a huge improvement in access to information for the public so they can understand the candidates better.
'But we still need to wait and see whether this will become long-term or widespread. Also, the problem of how poor-performing cadres can be removed still needs to be addressed.'
Earlier this month, Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai initiated a televised debate between teams of civil servants, a move applauded as highlighting better governance and transparency. In March, four bureau chiefs in Nanjing were picked from 16 candidates.