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  • Sep 19, 2014
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PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 5:16am

Beijing car buyers question fairness of number plate lottery

Fairness of number plate lottery system questioned after same name wins it seven straight times

BIO

After obtaining a Master's degree in Journalism from Carleton University in Canada, Keith started his journalism career in 2006 as an editorial assistant for local media in Ottawa, and covered the Canadian Federal Election that year. He returned to China to report on the Sichuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He joined the Post’s Beijing bureau in 2012. Keith finds it a challenge and a thrill to dig useful information from the subtle insinuations and muted reports in largely censored mainland Chinese media, and turning them into exclusive and insightful stories through hard reporting.
 

Voices are being openly raised among potential car buyers and the media about the need for more trustworthy government officials after the same name won in seven consecutive rounds of the capital's number plate lottery.

The Beijing News reported on Thursday that a record 1.26 million residents competed for fewer than 20,000 plates this month. "Liu Xuemei" was so lucky that the person - or perhaps people - won two plates in May. Cynical car-plate hunters wondered if they should change their name to stand a better chance in the next contest.

Eagle-eyed internet users soon discovered Liu Xuemei was the name of the director of the vehicle and driver management department of the Ministry of Public Security. Liu Xuemei, in her 30s, is in charge of drafting rules for vehicle permits.

Beijing launched the car lottery in 2010 as a way to reduce car ownership and cut down on traffic congestion. Normally a Beijing resident must wait a relatively long time to get a plate. The Beijing News interviewed a local resident who said "it's extraordinary" for the same person to be among the lottery winners for seven consecutive months. He had entered the contest 18 times without success.

The People's Daily Online quoted another resident who had also "repeatedly " failed to secure a plate, saying anyone who wanted a licence should change his name to "Liu Xuemei".

An official explanation came out the same day. The traffic control department told The Beijing Times the fundamental concept of the lottery was "fairness" and applicants often had identical names. Over 75 people called "Liu Xuemei" had entered the contest over the years.

Liu Xuemei from the traffic administration office denied the accusations later that day on Sina's microblog service.

"It is like I have been randomly shot by a bullet as I lay on the ground. I can understand it if it's merely a good-natured joke. But if somebody has a malicious purpose, I will resort to laws to protect myself," she wrote on her verified account.

The Southern Metropolis Daily picked up on her phrase: "Liu Xuemei shot while lying down" said one headline. The article said the accusation had been an understandable mistake. "The anger of car-plate hunters is almost inevitable, and these people want to vent and express their frustration at such a lottery system."

It posed a question: "Why does the public suspect bureaucratic murkiness when it sees something extraordinary? It is because there are too many regulations coming down from the top level, and the government loves to use its power to fix everything."

The Chongqing Morning Post ran an article that said a computer-savvy engineer could easily cheat the lottery.

"The discussion shows the envy of those whose right to buy a car is limited. Some question the fairness of the game … If the relevant sectors cannot guarantee a fair game, they will lose credibility … Watchdogs should assure the public there was no cheating."

The Western China Metropolis Daily in Sichuan ran an article under the headline "Hoping the lucky 'Liu' is just a coincidence". It argued the only way to reassure a sceptical public was for the government to be more open and transparent.

"We have to put everything that the public cares about in a glass house … only then can we can really cheer and applaud the lucky Liu," the paper said.

The Qilu Evening News echoed the sentiment, saying the public did not believe "good luck" happened to ordinary people.

"Those administrative departments in charge of public resources normally reserve 'good luck' for those few who are in power. That deprives the public of the right to enjoy what they actually deserve for free. The chance that good luck happens without the influence of the powers that be is zero."

keith.zhai@scmp.com

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