Chinese-Style Election

(Southern Weekend)  The Dengfeng City Mayor Election Campaign.  By Hu Nianfei (胡念飞).  February 9, 2006.

39-year-old Zhu Shixi has been a government official for 15 years, but the most dramatic change has to be this one.

At the end of November 2005, there was an opening for the position of mayor of the city of Dengfeng in Henan province.  Zhu Shixi was the city's party deputy secretary.  Based upon experience, rank and achievements, he was one of the top people in the city leadership, and he became a hot favorite to take over.

If it were not for the fact that there is a new "three vote system," this mayoral election would have been as calm as usual.  But this time, Zhu Shixi learned that there were 63 other mayoral aspirants.

Three years ago, it was Zhu Shixi who joined to design and implement the "three vote system."  He did not expect that he would ultimately become a participant whose chances of winning were uncertain.

The contest began on December 5, 2005.  On that day, the Zhengzhou City party organization announced that it would use the "three vote system" to select the candidate for mayor in the city of Dengfeng within its jurisdiction.

What is the "three vote system"?  According to what Zhengzhou City Party Standing Committee member and Party Organization director Wang Zhang told the reporter, they are changing their former method of appointing cadres and they will instead use a vote by the masses, a vote based upon evaluating ability and a vote by differential voting to select officials.

Zhu went to apply on that day.  Without question, Zhu was a favored prospect.  In 2003, he became the Dengfeng City Party Committee Organization Director and later the deputy party secretary.  In the three years since, he was in charge of organization management and party building, and his accomplishments were notable.  In the party ranking, the two deputy party secretaries ahead of him were near retirement age.  According to a Dengfeng cadre, "it ought to be Zhu Shixi's turn."

Surprisingly, there were many applicants.  The Organization Department disclosed that from 8:30am December 6 to 6:00pm December 7, a total of 64 cadres applied.  "The fierceness of the competition was unexpected."

This situation made Zhu Shixi somewhat nervous.  But he was still brimming with confidence, "I have been working in Dengfeng for many years and I think the masses accept me."

According to the rules of the "three vote system," the candidates must pass the first "public opinion" phase.  Wang Zhang told the reporter that "public opinion" here is defined to be all the cadres who are middle-level or higher in Zhengzhou City departments and all the middle-level or higher in Dengfeng City divisions.  They will be holding a meeting in which they will use secret ballots to select 10 persons from the 64 candidates.

At 5pm on December 9, the "public opinion" phase began.  At the Zhengzhou convention center, 340 cadres began to cast their votes.  The process took about 10 minutes.  On the same evening, the Dengfeng city cadres also cast their votes for the candidates.

As expected, Zhu Shixi won with the highest number of votes.  The surprise was that there were two individuals tied at the tenth and last spot, so the number of candidates in the next round was actually eleven.

On December 14, the second round of voting -- ability evaluation -- began.  This vote was based upon the grades given out by an evaluation committee.  The candidates were evaluated on knowledge, speech and debate to test their combined qualities.  The candidates were graded and then a number of them will pass through to the third and final round based upon their scores.

"I stepped into the test room, and I felt that this was like the Super Girl contest.  It was very cruel."  Candidate Wu Fumin described the situation to the reporter.  "The room was filled with evaluators and there were three cameras with their bottomless black camera eyes pointed at me.  I was a bit nervous inside."

Wu Fumin was the Zhengzhou City government deputy secretary general, and he was Zhu Shixi's strongest opponent.

During this round of voting, the decisive factor was the 16 graders.  Based upon the regulations, these graders included two experts, four county (city) and district principal leaders, four cadre representatives from the industrial, agricultural, urban construction and tourism departments of the county district, and the rest are cadres from other departments.  In addition, five People's Congress representatives and Political Consultative Conference members were observers in the room.

"They watched you very closely at the scene," a candidate cadre told the reporter.  "At the location, all mobile phones were blacked out.  Every candidate was watched by people from the City Disciplinary Committee and Party Organization Department.  They even followed you into the restroom.  During the testing, only one person can go into the room.  After you finish, someone will continue to watch you."

The order of the testing of the applicants was determined by random drawing.  At that moment, Zhu Shixi felt a sense of foreboding when he drew the last spot.  "This meant that the evaluators have worked for more than five hours and they must be a bit tired."

But his competitor Wu Fumin drew a good spot, "Number 6 -- an ideal position."

This round of voting lasted five-and-a-half hours.  The final result was that Wu Fumin led with 884 while Zhu Shixi was in third place.

"I am happy with my performance at the scene.  I did not win, so it is possible that the other people are better than me," Zhu Shixi was a bit dissatisfied with the outcome.

No doubt people have different opinions about the performances of the two.  A Zhengzhou City Committee leader told the reporter, "Zhu Shixi had a good performance and his speech was comprehensive.  Wu Fumin was incisive."

The round resulted in the elimination of seven people, leaving four including Wu Fumin and Zhu Shixi.

The competition was heating up and rumors began to fly among the masses.  There were all sorts of sayings.  Zhu Shixi admitted frankly that he was under a great deal of pressure.

After seven competitors were eliminated in two rounds, the Organization Department then began on-the-job inspections.  As a result, only three candidates were left.

On the morning of December 22, the third vote -- and this is the key differential vote -- began.  According to the regulations, the Zhenghzou City Party Standing Committee would vote to select two people, and then the full Committee would vote on the final winner.  Both rounds of voting were by secret ballots.

When the Standing Committee voted, there was a piece of drama: fifteen Standing Committee members voted, Wu Fumin was got 12 votes, Zhu Shixi and the other competitor Wang Fusong each got 9 votes (note: the voting was not one vote for one person by one voter).

After an emergency conference, the Standing Committee members decided to take another vote, and Zhu Shixi beat Wang Fusong by 9 votes.

So after passing the test, Zhu Shixi finally stepped on the PK dais.  Facing this last test, he had no idea what to think.  "I have always worked at the grassroots level, so the full committee may not be familiar with me.  Wu Fumin worked in the city government, so he may have close contacts with the full committee."

At 4:40pm that afternoon, the 41 full committee members cast their votes.  The vote was counted at the scene with media coverage.  The final result was: Wu Fumin 22 votes, Zhu Shixi 19 votes.  By a margin of 3 votes, there was a winner.

At the final step, Zhu Shixi was defeated.  He was comforted by the fact that he got 19 votes, only 3 fewer than Wu Fumin.  He told the reporter, "This showed that I am not bad."

About this competition, Zhengzhou City Committee Deputy Secretary Qi Jinli offered this analysis: "It was only a difference of two people for Zhu Shixi to win."

Although the final joy of victory belonged to only one person, both Wu Fumin and Zhu Shixi found that they had unwittingly become celebrities in Henan.  A leader even joked with Wu Fumin: "Electing this county-level city mayor is even more exciting than electing the provincial governor.  There is only one news report about the election of the provincial governor, but you have been reported innumerable times in the newspapers."

Although Zhu Shixi lost, his fame was no less than that of Wu Fumin.  The Zhengzhou newspapers even published jingles about him every day.

Zhu Shixi's rewards will be even more, as Deputy Secretary Qi Jinli told the reporter that Zhu Shixi's excellent performance will probably result in his promotion to senior county-level leadership.

On February 7, 2006, the Dengfeng City Second People's Congress will be opening its fourth conference.  Barring any accident, the Organization Department will be recommending Wu Fumin as its only candidate and he will be elected as the Dengfeng City mayor on February 10.

"This will be the first full-county leader elected in the three years of the 'three vote system'," Zhu Shixi told the reporter.

These words should perhaps make people reflective.  Actually, three years ago at this time, Zhu Shixi was getting a headache about deciding who should be recommended as the director of the Transportation Department.  It was this "headache" that brought the "three vote system" into existence.

At the time, Zhu Shixi was a City Party Standing Committee member and the Organization Department director.  "I remembered that at least 15 people went through various channels to express their desire to become the director of the Transportation Department.  If I recommend any one person, I would offend a lot of others.  Many of them had recommendations from superior-level officials.  How was I going to deal with all that?"

This matter went on for more than half a year, and there were all sorts of opinions.  Later, there was a major mining safety incident in Dengfeng and the appointment of people to the nine positions to administer the town-level coal mines also became extremely sensitive.

In order to get out of the predicament, Dengfeng City Party Secretary Zhang Xuejun decided to reform: "Instead of being pushed around by events, why not actively beat out a new path?"

Through his direct intercession, the Organization Department began to study the proposal, "Can there be public elections?" (note: this is not referring to universal suffrage; this is referring to voting by the cadres or their representatives)

But this proposal was vetoed by Zhengzhou City Party Standing Committee member and Organization Department director Wang Zhang: "First, this is not creative.  Second, the biggest flaw about public elections is that the elected cadres are often good with theory and weak in actual ability and they take a long time to adjust."

Actually, Dengfeng has had public election experiences.  Previously, there has been six public elections in which 91 division-level cadres were elected.

Having no choice, the Zhengzhou City Party Commmittee and the Dengfeng City Party Committee organized an inspection team and traveled around the country.  "We went around in a big circle and we did not find anything good," said inspection team member Zhang Hongwei to the reporter.  "We decided to do something new on our own."

Zhang Hongwei is the policy research unit director of the Zhengzhou City Party Committee Organization Department and one of the brains behind the "three vote systems."  He and Zhu Shixi thought about the "two vote system" for electing village-level cadres in China.  That procedure emphasized mass participation but it does not evaluate the abilities.

"Why don't we add one more vote on top of the two votes and have a 'three vote' system?" Zhang Hongwei told the reporter about the inspiration that came to them at the time.

At the time, Wang Zhang thought about the old civil examination system: "The flaws of that system lied in the form of the examination as well as the reification of the contents, but it allowed rich and poor people to compete on the same platform under comparable circumstances.  Otherwise, we would not have the story of Chen Shimei needing to beg for food in order to go to take the examination in the capital city."

The "three vote system" was thus born.  The first test was the election of the director of the Transportation Department in Dengfeng city.

When the plan was announced, the cadres were all talking about it but only six dared to enter.  After the "three vote system" was carried out, Chang Xingwen was became the director of the Transportation Department.  He was originally the party secretary of Xuqing town in Dengfeng city.  "Originally, I thought that all three generations in my family were peasants.  I didn't have a powerful patron and I did not look up any leaders.  Even if I participated, I would just be a bridesmaid.  I did not think that I would succeed."

The "three vote system" became a hit.  Thereafter, it was carried out in all of Zhengzhou city.  Organization Department director Wang Zhang said: "More than 600 junior-level cadres have been elected by the 'three vote system,' and this is about 1/3 of the total number of promotions."

In December 2004, Xu Guangchun became the party committee secretary of Henan province, and he paid high attention to the "three vote system."  He has commented four times that the "three vote system" was a new idea and method and it is the most effective way of adhering to principles and traditions.

The reporter understands that in 2006, Henan province will implement this method to promote people to become provincial-level department cadres.

"In the previous method of cadre selection, the masses object most of all to the lobbying of other officials," said Wang Zhang.  "People have grown accustomed to thinking that it is normal to see lobbying for votes.  It would be abnormal if there isn't any.  Those who can lobby for votes show ability.  If you lobby me for votes, then you respect me; if you don't lobby me, then you look down on me."

The "three vote system" is the greatest level of democracy that can be achieved in safe conditions within the cadre selection system.  Deputy Secretary Qi Jinli believes that "it does not violate the basic principles about managing cadres and it does not violate any related laws."

Central Party School professor Liang Xingwei believes that the "three vote system" achieved breakthroughs in nomination, evaluation and decision by voting.  This is undoubtedly a bold reform (or it may even be called a subversion) of previous cadre selection procedures.

"But the 'three vote system' is not a cure-all medicine.  It is more appropriate to select local cadres," Wang Zhang told the reporter.  "The 'three vote system' has a unique area of application.  For example, it would not be appropriate for selecting cadres outside the area (note: for example, in 1982, Shenzhen City officials traveled around the country and conducted interviews in various cities to hire cadres at different levels and functions)."

But the outside world has continued to be dubious.  Is the "three vote system" just a show?  A Zhengzhou netizen has posted a comment: The recommendation of the masses in the "three vote system" is actually the special votes of the unit leaders; the ability evaluation lacks any objective standards, so it becomes the subjective judgment of certain people; the final vote is still up to a small number of leaders.

Concerning these doubts, Wang Zhang's response was that the assumption of the "three vote system" is that most masses and leaders are capable of insisting on justice and conscience.  Otherwise, all election systems are useless.

"In the past, a cadre has to rely on a leader.  If the leader is willing to speak on his behalf, the cadre may be promoted.  But now it is up to secret differential voting and the results are hard to predict," Qi Jinli revealed.  "During the selection for one city unit leader, the popular rumor was that the choice had been fixed internally.  In truth, during the mass recommendation vote, this person got the highest number of votes.  But when the ability evaluation was made, this person got the lowest score."