Officials in charge of party discipline in Shanxi province yesterday announced punishments for 152 cadres involved in vote-buying in a local election last December. Xinhua said at least three cadres were expelled from the Communist Party and several others received punishments ranging from reprimands to dismissals. The case has been described in Chinese media as the most serious political scandal in Shanxi's Hejin city. The scandal arose last December when Yuncheng county was promoted to city status and the People's Congress of Hejin was put in charge of setting up the first city legislature for Yuncheng. Although delegates to people's congresses are not government officials, they can still wield considerable influence in government work, especially at the grassroots level. According to a report released by the Shanxi Discipline Inspection Commission, 152 cadres and candidates were found to have been involved in electoral fraud. Candidates, most of them wealthy local businessmen, offered members of Hejin People's Congress cash and presents including cigarettes - and even underwear. Xinhua said 123 Hejin People's Congress members received a total of 905,000 yuan (HK$850,000), and presents worth 57,000 yuan, from 21 candidates. They were also entertained lavishly - 64,000 yuan was spent on alcohol and banquets during the election period. The report did not identify the other eight cadres disciplined yesterday. According to Xinhua, of the 123 members of the Hejin People's Congress who accepted bribes, 116 had 'repented' and would receive re-education as punishment from the Communist Party. Among those who were punished, Lu Yaoxiang, former head of the Hejin People's Congress, received the most severe punishment. He was expelled from the Communist Party and sacked. Xue Jixiang, Hejin party secretary, lost his party job. However, the commission said he would be able to keep his party membership, subject to review in two years. Wang Tiancai, head of the Organisation Department of Hejin, received a reprimand and faced demotion. Six other senior members of the Hejin People's Congress also lost their positions in the Communist Party, including two vice-chairmen of the congress. In China, assignment by the party is regarded as almost essential for a government post. City mayors are usually assigned deputy party secretaries. Xinhua said 10 people who had been elected to the Yuncheng People's Congress were stripped of their seats. Two of them were also expelled from the Communist Party and five others received a severe warning from the party. Chinese leaders have repeatedly stated that China will not follow Western-style popular elections in selecting governments and people's representatives. They insist that the people's congress system - assemblies elected under the auspices of the Communist Party - is more suitable to China's social and political needs. However, Western observers have questioned the effectiveness of the system, arguing the people's congresses mostly rubber-stamp decisions made by party leaders. They also say elections are prone to vote-buying.