Lee Lai and Gao Shan | Radio Free Asia
A decision by China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) to expel 45 members for vote-buying and bribery is more closely linked to factional infighting than a genuine attempt to weed out corruption in the rubber-stamp parliament, analysts said on Wednesday.
The NPC on Tuesday disqualified 45 legislators from the northeastern province of Liaoning, citing “electoral fraud” during 2013 elections to the legislature, official media reported.
More than 500 delegates to the Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress were implicated in the election fraud and have now either resigned or had their qualification as delegates terminated, state news agency Xinhua reported.
But while pro-Beijing media reported the move as an important step in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, analysts said the crackdown was more likely the result of power struggle within the ranks of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
“I think that this is the result of factional infighting,” constitutional law expert and former local People’s Congress deputy Yao Lifa told RFA.
“I think that the laws governing the election of People’s Congress delegates must be amended, otherwise the problem of vote-buying isn’t going away.”
Bruce Lui, of the Hong Kong Baptist University’s journalism faculty, said Liaoning was once a political stronghold of jailed former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, which might have made it a political target under Xi’s administration.
“For the whole of the Liaoning People’s Congress to be rounded up and taken away by the central government ahead of the 19th People’s Congress [next year] shows that this must really be a nest of vipers … and that Xi Jinping has the authority to deal with them,” Lui said.
“But it also shows us at some level that the government dictates how deep and how far the anti-corruption campaign goes.”
Lui said such moves could also be a form of political retaliation targeting local governments who obstruct the implementation of Xi’s directives.
Sun Wenguang, retired Shandong University lecturer and former local delegate to NPC advisory body the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said if the system is corrupt, then the responsibility lies with the government.
“All of the NPC delegates and the election candidates are in fact chosen by the government,” Sun said. “The elections are just there for show, and people very seldom cast a vote in opposition.”
“There is no real election campaigning, which is why the Liaoning electoral fraud case is a little strange.”
“I think it has to do with internal struggles within the party, with one faction gaining the ascendancy and then using bribery charges to get rid of the other faction,” he said.
Sun called for reform of the NPC system to allow for genuine elections to take place with a slate of different candidates not pre-selected by the government.
“There should be two or three different candidates in a People’s Congress election, and anyone should be allowed to stand as long as they are over 18 and meet the residency requirements,” Sun said.
“Elections should be open, fair and transparent, otherwise they are meaningless,” he said.
No opposition allowed
Overall, there are five levels of hierarchy in the People’s Congress system, with the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing at the top.
China’s electoral guidelines state that candidates may put themselves forward if they receive recommendations from at least 10 local voters in direct elections to district and township level People’s Congresses.
Every three to five years, China “elects” more than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels across the country to local-level People’s Congresses in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships.
But powerful vested interests mean that the majority of local “elections” are a fait accompli, while independent candidates are frequently targeted for persecution, harassment and detention.
Local vested interests have used intimidation and detention, tampering with physical ballot boxes, and paying for extra votes to maintain their grip on the outcome.
Apart from a token group of “democratic parties” that never oppose or criticize the ruling party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
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