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The Electoral System in China

Under the Organic Law of the Village Committees, all of China’s approximately 1 million villages are expected to hold competitive, direct elections for subgovernmental village committees.

A 1998 revision to the law called for improvements in the nominating process and enhanced transparency in village committee administration. The revised law also explicitly transferred the power to nominate candidates to villagers themselves, as opposed to village groups or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) branches. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, as of 2003 the majority of provinces had carried out at least four or five rounds of village elections. Deputies to local people’s congresses of provinces, centrally administered municipalities, and cities divided into districts are elected by the people’s congress at the next lower level. Deputies to people’s congresses of counties, cities not divided into districts, municipal districts, townships, ethnic townships, and towns are elected directly by their constituencies to five-year terms. The local congresses each have corresponding standing committees that exercise legislative authority when the full congresses are not in session.

Some townships and urban areas also have experimented with direct elections of local government leaders, plus local people’s congresses have the constitutional authority to recall the heads and deputy heads of government at the provincial level and below. The constitution does not specify how deputies to the people’s congresses of the autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures, and autonomous counties are chosen. Elected leaders, however, remain subordinate to the corresponding CCP secretary, and most are appointed by higher-level party organizations.

Although China’s constitution guarantees suffrage for citizens age 18 and older, the CCP maintains a close watch on electoral democracy at the grassroots levels and controls the outcome of elections at other levels.

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