The lower-stakes moments when China’s top lawmakers show their hand

A string of candidates for the legislature’s Standing Committee came in for some strong opposition on Sunday

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 9:04pm

Most of the time China’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress, goes along with the Communist Party and endorses its major decisions with an overwhelming majority.

But there are times when the 2,000 or so lawmakers are more willing to exercise their preferences.

A case in point is deciding who gets to sit on the NPC’s 159-member Standing Committee, which meets in between the full legislature’s annual sessions.

On Sunday, one group of the 170 candidates in the running for the seats were the recipients of a particularly high proportion of no votes from legislators: the leaders of the anticorruption campaign in the military.

Lieutenant General Yang Chengxi, deputy discipline chief of the People’s Liberation Army since 2016, stood out for the 400-plus votes in opposition to his candidacy.

Yang is one of the “top guns” Beijing has deployed in a far-reaching campaign that its supporters claim has felled “more generals than war”.

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“Working overtime in the weekend has become a norm,” the PLA Daily quoted Yang as saying in 2016. “And we conducted inspection tours on holidays, too.”

Lieutenant General Chai Shaoliang, Yang’s colleague at the PLA’s anti-graft watchdog, fared even worse, receiving 749 opposition votes, while top military judge Lieutenant General Liu Jixing was not far behind with 569 noes.

Lieutenant General Wang Changhe, who oversees discipline inspection in the People’s Armed Police, also had 567 votes of opposition. Wang is known for saying in 2016 that he would “poke the hive” to stem corruption in the force.

Lieutenant General Song Kun, who oversees graft-fighting in the air force, received 647 opposition votes.

The PLA has 269 seats in the NPC.

Lawmakers also registered strong opposition in the election for candidates associated with major scandals.

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Lu Peijun, China’s former deputy customs head, received more than 500 opposition votes.

Lu was disciplined publicly in 2016 after a deadly blast of Tianjin that claimed 165 lives.

Beijing said Lu was responsible for poor oversight of the operations of the city’s port, where dangerous chemicals were stored less than one kilometre from residential buildings.

Liu Zhengkui, a former deputy head of the legislature in the northern province of Liaoning, and Xie Yong, deputy head of Hunan’s provincial legislature, struggled to gain broad support on Sunday.

Both provinces have been the scene of massive vote-rigging scandals.

Liu received 793 opposition votes and Xie attracted more than 800.

It was not clear whether the lawmakers had been told to vote down certain candidates, instructions that are not rare in the semi-competitive elections.

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It was a contrast to the most important ballots in the state and the party – including those for the president, vice-president, members of the Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee – which all have the same number of candidates as positions vacant.

In a sign of just how predetermined some of these top “ballots” can be, the party’s anti-graft watchdog announced online early Sunday morning that its deputy chief Yang Xiaodu had been elected to head the new National Supervisory Commission. The announcement came as lawmakers were still queuing to cast their votes on his appointment in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection later issued a corrected version.

Yang was voted in in a landslide, with only six objections and seven abstentions.