China Implements Incremental Electoral Reforms (Story in Chinese)

November 1, 2004

As noted in a Beijing News article, on October 27, the National People's Congress (NPC) passed a series of amendments to the Election Law governing China's system of local and provincial legislatures, the local people's congresses (LPCs).

The reforms leave untouched core aspects of the electoral process, which the Party and goverment continue to control. Party bureaus and officially-approved social groups still control nomination procedures, and ill-defined official "electoral commissions" retain the power to influence the final determination of candidate list.

The reforms introduce, however, two incremental, progressive changes. First, they expressly allow (but do not require) electoral commissions to employ a system of primary elections to winnow the candidate list. Previous law only instructed the electoral commissions to determine a final list of candidates, and in practice the commissions most often accomplished this selection entirely without public accountability. Second, the amended law allows (but does not require) the electoral commission itself to organize public events to allow the candidates to respond to questions from the public.

While incremental in nature, these reforms reflect official desire to maintain tight government control over every stage of the electoral process. The amended law only authorizes candidate speeches and activities organized by the electoral commission itself, not those conducted independently. Moreover, the electoral commission retains significant discretion to interfere in the candidate selection process. The reforms grant, however,a certain degree of freedom to individual local governments that might seek to implement more vigorous electoral reforms.