New rules for village elections put candidates under greater scrutiny
Beijing has released an edict stepping up control over the credentials of candidates in forthcoming village elections, tightening supervision of the voting process and holding local officials responsible for election- related protests.
The document, jointly issued by the Central Office of the Communist Party and the General Office of the State Council, aimed to encourage villagers to take part in the next round of village-level elections and weed out corruption in the process.
Many villages will hold elections in the coming months as the three-year term for village committees expires. So far the mainland has only allowed direct elections at village level and has turned down repeated calls by academics to expand direct elections to township and county governments.
'We should note that there are irregularities in some of the village committee elections. Bribery prevails and it affects the impartiality of the elections,' the document, released by Xinhua yesterday, said. 'In some areas, local [cadres] have not followed the regulations and policies for village committee elections and it dampens the incentives for villages to participate [in the elections].
'In some areas, [local cadres] did not resolve conflicts and disputes in the process of elections, and that hampers rural stability.'
The edict is intended to curb corruption and assuage the grievances of villagers by pledging to punish local officials who impoperly seize farmers' land and public assets. It also contained a vow to clamp down on bribery, the use of violence, fraud, and ballot-fixing in elections.
County and township party chiefs would be held responsible if demonstrations and protests broke out during the elections, it said.
It also ordered local governments in areas where tension between local cadres and villagers was high to prepare 'emergency plans' to deal with possible protests.
The document details how local cadres should prepare for elections as well as the handover process afterwards - an obvious attempt to remove loopholes that give rise to corruption as well as the growing number of disputes during the handover of financial accounts and village assets to new village chiefs.
In terms of procedures, it stipulates that candidates for chairman, vice-chairman and members of village committees should be nominated by villagers, and the number of candidates should be more than the seats. Previously, candidates were often nominated by so-called village representatives and local party apparatus, a practice that gives room to manipulation by local cadres.
The edict orders the village election committees to encourage local businessmen, veterans, college graduates and returning migrant workers to stand.
The rules say local cadres can 'organise question-and-answer sessions between candidates and voters, but campaigning is banned.
It also instructs local governments to set aside a budget for the village committees and promised pensions for retired village officials.