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Report of the Fifth Mission on Chinese Village Elections by The Carter Center, Atlanta, Georgia

Table of Contents

Purposes of Fifth Mission and Executive Summary
As representatives of The Carter Center, we have just concluded our fifth mission to observe and assess the electoral process in China. Last March, we concluded an agreement with the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) aimed at constructing a national system to collect village election results ?in a rapid and transparent manner? and assess the electoral process. Our mission this month began implementing the agreement by working in three counties in each of three pilot provinces, Fujian, Hunan, and Jilin.

The system is based on two forms that will be completed at the villages after elections and transmitted to the township and county as quickly as possible. At the county-level, we installed computers with special software that we designed to collect and aggregate the election results and an assessment of the electoral process and then send the information by modem or internet to the provincial and national capitals. If this system works in the pilot provinces, we hope it would be the model for the rest of the country and for other elections.

In just a few months, MCA and the Carter Center developed the forms and the software, raised money for computers to be installed in the pilot provinces and counties, transmitted the forms to the village level and had them retrieved in the counties before the delegation?s arrival on June 22nd. Most of the work was done in the two weeks before the delegation arrived, and we are very pleased with the heroic efforts by provincial and other officials to move this project forward in such a short time. We found the villagers and officials at the county and provincial levels very excited with the prospect that information on village elections could be transmitted and received at all levels so that they might know what is happening in other villages and provinces, and others will know what they have done. We interpreted that excitement, in part, as a natural desire by people, whether poor farmers or wealthier city-folks, to want to connect to the outside world. We expect that as the system comes on line, that the information will be readily available to everyone in and outside of China who are
interested in elections.

Senior leaders in the National People?s Congress told the delegation that the Carter Center?s previous report in March 1998, especially its recommendations, had been very helpful and as a result of the expertise demonstrated in that report and the previous missions of the Carter Center, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the National People?s Congress invited the Carter Center to offer comments on the draft law on elections and observe and advise on township and county-wide elections. The delegation accepted the invitation.

Background and Schedule of the Fifth Mission
The Carter Center s interest in China s village elections is rooted in the Center s long experience in observing and mediating national elections throughout the globe. Over the past ten years, the Center has been invited to observe more than 20 elections in 15 countries, primarily throughout Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

The Center s work on elections has led us to three conclusions: First, elections provide the most stable framework for peaceful change if they are conducted professionally and if there is adequate civic education. While democracy can be more than free elections, it cannot be less. Secondly, without solid administrative foundations that are acceptable to all participants, elections can be a source of instability. A candidate will always think that technical irregularities and logistical problems favor his or her opponent, impugning the legitimacy of the election. Third, the best guarantee of political legitimacy and, therefore, stability, is when leaders are selected through elections that offer voters a secret, individual, and regular choice between competing candidates, where there is a transparent counting process, and where the process is sufficiently fair that the results are accepted by winners and losers alike. These are the minimal preconditions of a successful election.

Comparative studies of revolution suggest that instability and revolution are not the result of rapid economic expansion but of relative decline after a sustained period of growth. The countries that have avoided such instability are those with a popular, democratic framework that permits change peacefully and with legitimacy.

Chinese Village Elections: In 1982, after China moved from the commune system to one based on household contract responsibility, the Chinese constitution was amended to recognize elected village committees as the basic form of political organization at the grassroots. The legal framework for village self-governance was approved in 1987 by the National People s Congress in the ?Organic Law on Villagers Committee.? This law contained broad provisions for the direct election by villagers of the chairmen, vice-chairmen, and members of the village committees that manage the day to day functioning of China s approximately 930,000 villages, which represent about 75% of China s 1.2 billion population.

It was largely left to the provinces to develop the regulations to implement the direct elections, and the central government encouraged experimentation. This has meant there are few national standards and a wide range of quality of the practices employed, particularly in the key areas of candidate nomination and use of the secret ballot.

The Carter Center has sent teams to observe and interview on more than 50 village elections in five provinces. Other groups during the past five years might have seen a total of about 350 other village elections. As compared to the number of villages and the lack of randomness of our sample, this total number of observed elections hardly constitutes a scientific sample. However, from these observations and from extensive interviews with officials from throughout China, most observers believe that village elections are uneven in quality but nonetheless represent a serious attempt to allow villagers to choose their leaders, and, as such, they are an important and serious development that deserve international support.

Currently, the MCA is charged with the daunting task of administering village elections in China. The MCA is doing this with few resources and without a clear idea as to how many of the elections are conducted according to the rules. Estimates range from one-third to two-thirds of the villages are doing it properly. In those areas that village elections have been successfully implemented, they are extremely popular, with villagers vigorously enjoying their right to choose their leaders.

Carter Center Involvement: The Carter Center s first mission on village elections occurred in July 1996, when Dr. Robert Pastor, Carter Center Fellow and Program Director, first held intensive meetings with senior officials in the MCA on comparative election experiences, and visited three villages in Shandong province and interviewed numerous officials and villagers. As a result of these discussions, the Department of Basic Level Governance at MCA invited The Carter Center to formally observe elections in the spring of 1997. Following an experts meeting at The Carter Center in November, 1996 chaired by former US President Jimmy Carter, Dr. Pastor led a seven-person Carter Center delegation to observe elections in Fujian and Hebei provinces in March, 1997 and held extensive discussions on its observations with ministry officials in Beijing.

In July, 1997 President and Mrs. Carter, former US Senator and Mrs. Sam Nunn, Stanford University Professor Dr. Michel Oksenberg, and Dr. Pastor visited China for discussions with President Jiang Zemin and other high-level officials on Sino-US cooperation, village elections, and possible cooperation between the Center and the MCA to support village elections. During this visit, President Carter met with Minister of Civil Affairs Duoji Cairang. Following their discussion, they exchanged letters outlining three points of cooperation between the ministry and the Center, revolving around providing a computer data gathering system on village elections to the ministry, providing assistance with the standardization of village election procedures, and collaborating on educational exchanges and publicizing the elections in China and abroad.

In March, 1998, Dr. Pastor led a nine-person delegation to observe elections in Jilin and Liaoning provinces. Permission was granted by the government of China for senior western journalists to accompany the trip. At the conclusion of the visit, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was negotiated and signed by Xu Liugen, Director-General of the Department of International Cooperation of the MCA on behalf of MCA, and Dr. Pastor, on behalf of The Carter Center. This MOU outlined a long-term cooperative relationship.

Since March, 1998, the Ministry and the Center have been working hard to begin implementing the MOU, with the primary focus on designing and installing a computer data gathering system, starting in three pilot provinces, Fujian, Hunan, and Jilin.. Three counties were selected in each of three provinces, and The Carter Center installed computers at each of the counties, at the provincial level, and at the ministry, and designed software in order that data from the village level could be transported on the computer network from the county, through the province, to central MCA in Beijing in a ?rapid and transparent? manner, as agreed in the MOU. The data is contained in two forms designed jointly by the ministry and the Center on which are recorded both quantitative questions about the election results, and qualitative questions designed to assess how well the electoral law is being implemented.

On this, our Fifth Mission, our principal objective was to visit the two pilot provinces of Fujian and Hunan (the third will be visited at the end of this week) to check: (1) that the two survey forms had reached the villages in the three pilot counties in each province and had been returned to the county level; (2) that the computers had been installed; and (3) that a computer operator had been designated and trained to use the software. We traveled with MCA officials and with the Director of Basic-Level Governance in each Provinces and learned about the state of the electoral process there.

In addition to our meetings with officials from the MCA, we had other meetings with intellectuals and officials in Beijing and outside to talk about other elections at the township and county levels and broader issues of political reform. We also briefed the press twice as well as the foreign governments with aid programs in governance areas.

The State of Village Elections and the Installation of the National System for Collecting Election Results - Fujian, Hunan, and Jilin
The delegation visited Fujian Province from June 23-25, 1998. Arriving in the provincial capital of Fuzhou for briefings and discussions, the team split up and traveled to Xianyou and Xiamen counties, with each team having briefings and discussions with county officials and visiting three villages in each county to conduct interviews and observe the installation of the data gathering system and the transmission of the completed forms.

If Fujian has the most advanced village election system, then most of the credit should go to Zhang Xiaogan, Director of Division of Basic Level Government, Fujian Department of Civil Affairs. With a population of 31 million and 17 million registered voters, Fujian has 83 counties, 971 townships, and 14,801 villages. The first round of village elections in Fujian was in 1984, even before the Organic Law. Six rounds have been held over the past 13 years; in 1984, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1994, and 1997. Each round has deepened democratic progress and the standardization of procedures. In 1989, only 38 percent of the villages completed elections; in 1997, 99.67 percent completed them. Fewer than 9 percent had primaries in 1989 while 77 percent had them in 1997. Most significantly, none of the elections in 1989 used a secret ballot, and 95 percent used it in 1997.

The province has continually experimented and been a model for other provinces. In 1997, the province experimented with a number of novel ideas, including a pre-election fiscal management audit, extensive training of an election cadre of over 500,000 workers, absentee balloting, nominations by groups of five voters, more active campaigning, prohibiting proxy voting, allowing candidates to have monitors observe polling stations, and extending the time to vote to eight hours over the course of the day. The 1997 elections cost 10 million RMB.

During the past decade, the quality of the Village Leaders has improved in terms of education and knowledge of economics. The rate of incumbency has ranged from about 43-52 percent; the rate of party members, who are elected Chairs, increased from 60 to 72 percent.

We visited the Ministry office in the provincial capital of Fuzhou and saw the new computer that had just been installed. A computer operator was designated and trained to handle the software. The computers were installed in all three counties in Fujian, but we could not visit Gutian because of flooding. Although the two forms were only sent to the province a week or so before the arrival of our delegation, the officials went to great length to send all the forms to the villages and retrieve them. The forms were largely filled out correctly with one major mistake. Instead of including the information and the election results for all the candidates - including the losers - the village or township officials that completed the forms only included data on the winners. This proved to be a problem in most of the counties that we visited. In our visits to two of the three counties, we found the officials frustrated over the inability to use local phone lines, and ready to log into the Internet when permission was granted. Several requested printers and an uninterrupted power source (UPS).

On the visit to the Huli District in Xiamen, there were 11 villages, most of them in semi-urban areas with relatively large populations of about 3,000 people, and relatively high per capita incomes of about 5,700 RMB. The Communist Party is strong in the area and fielded most of the candidates, who competed against each other. In Houfou village, Ye Jian Li ran for party secretary and lost, and so he ran for Village chair and won. He was apparently more popular among the villagers than among the party members. The salaries of the three top officials - the party secretary, the village chair, and the accountant - were roughly the same.

We witnessed several interesting debates between provincial and county officials. The provincial director did not approve of the three-stage voting process whereby the loser of the vote for the Chair could have a second or third try as Vice Chair or Committee Member. He thought this was just a way to allow a small clique in the township to run the entire village, and the county leaders did not approve of his idea of using monitors to observe the election.

We visited the province of Hunan from June 26-28. The province of Hunan in central China with a population of 64 million people has 122 counties, 2,381 townships, and 46,741 village committees. Like Fujian, Hunan?s village elections are also managed by an extremely capable Director of the Division of Basic-Level Governance, Mrs. Li Piewi. But the province does not have the experience that Fujian has. Only recently did the province abolish the household voting system requiring individuals to vote on their own, but it only required a secret ballot after the last election in 1996. As a result, only 15 percent of the villages used a secret ballot-- higher than before but still very low by national standards. Mrs. Li is very aware of the experiments in other provinces and has adopted many of them, including the ?haixuan? (individual nomination) method.

We visited two of the three counties - Xiangtan and Shuangfeng. Half of the villages in Xiangtan that we visited used a secret ballot, and the others didn?t. Ironically, the voting seemed more competitive in the villages where the ballots were handed out to the villagers, and they could write them wherever they wanted. The same pattern applied to Shuangfeng County. Villages in both counties made the same mistake in omitting the data on the losing candidates. All of the villages had a wall where all the village data on the expenses and revenues of the village committee were clearly posted. This transparent fiscal report is one of the four democratizations that the Civil Affairs Ministry is trying to encourage.

In Xiangyou County, there are 19 townships and 304 villages, and the elections were conducted in close conformity to the provincial regulations. In the four villages we visited, they used a secret ballot and prohibited proxy votes. In one of the villages, they used absentee ballots, but found it did not work well because they were sent after the final selection of candidates were made.

After meetings with government officials in Beijing from June 28-July 1, Pastor and Crick returned to the United States, and Liu and Tan went to the third pilot province, Jilin, to monitor the progress in implementing the project. Jilin has 60 counties, 913 townships, and 10,277 villages. Although the provincial leaders of Civil Affairs had hoped that 60 percent of the villages would use the ?haixuan? nomination system that had begun in one of its counties, Lishu, and become popular in other places around the country, the officials estimated that as many as 85 percent of the villages had adopted the method in their elections in 1998. The rest of the villages had used other methods of nomination, including by party branch, village small group, 10 villagers, and self-nomination.

Of the three pilot counties, Huadian has already completed the fourth round of election. Huadian has 16 townships and 179 villages. Dongfeng also completed the fourth round; it has 23 townships and 229 villages. Lishu, the third pilot county, official launched its fourth round on July 4 and plans to complete it by July 20. County officials agreed to use the two forms that had been modified to take into account the experiences gathered from its use in the other two provinces. The major change in the form is a clear instruction to include the names and data on the losers of the elections as well as the winners. The delegation tested the new forms on one village, and found that the villagers had no trouble filling them in. .

In a visit to Huojiadian village, which had finished the village committee election on June 30, Liu and Tan observed a heated discussion between villagers and the provincial and county officials about ways to improve the process. The villagers were very sharp and impressed the delegation deeply with their courage to take on the officials.

Lishu county officials explained to the delegation their new campaign methods, fiscal management audit, eligibility of candidates, and requirements for winning. In the views of the delegation, Lishu county?s reputation as being among the 10 best counties in the country was deserved in the light of the enthusiasm and expertise of the villagers, although they also sensed some possible problems that would require a more intensive observation of the entire election. The three counties installed their computers, and Lishu?s transmitted to the provincial capital, Changchun, which was able to transmit their data to the Ministry in Beijing.

Overall Assessment
All levels of government - the Ministry, the Provinces, the Counties, the Townships, and the villages - worked extremely hard with little or no resources to get the forms down to the villages, completed, and returned to the counties in just one week. One Provincial Director of Elections told us that it usually takes 10 months to get provincial questionnaires down to the village and back to the provincial capital, and they did it in one week with the MCA/Carter Center forms. That is just one of many examples of their dedication to make this project and, more broadly, village elections more successful.

Both provinces already sent extensive questionnaires to the villagers to complete, and although officials in both provinces were confused as to why they should rush to complete a simpler form, they did so. We explained to them that the new forms had two advantages over the more extensive form that they used. First, using the computer system, the form was designed to be sent to the province and the central government in a rapid and transparent manner so as to inform people of the results of the village elections. Second, the form would be harmonized throughout the country so as to permit generalizations about how well the electoral process is doing. Villagers and officials were very interested in having two-way transmission of results.

The experiments in Fujian with monitors and other ideas are superb ways to deepen and improve the electoral process. In Hunan, the progress to the secret ballot is very important. Jilin successfully completed the transmission from county to province to Beijing.

The Chinese government is in the midst of a profound bureaucratic restructuring. Perhaps as many as one-half of all government employees will lose their jobs in the next year. The MCA in Beijing has already been informed that its 470 professional employees will be reduced by more than half, to 215, in the next year. There is some question as to what effect this will have on the local governance division, but most think that the 6 people working fully on village elections and the 11 working part-time in Beijing will remain in place, but they will probably have additional responsibilities. For a task of such magnitude, the number of people working on elections is clearly inadequate. And the problems grow worse as one descends the government ladder. The truth is that there are not enough individuals and resources to do a proper job of conducting village elections let alone do government-level elections. The capacity of the system will be limited until there is a stronger will by the senior officials to overcome these constraints.

Political Reform - The Emerging Dialogue
Since beginning this project, we have always tried to engage officials at all government levels and with Chinese outside of government, from villagers to intellectuals, about the meaning of the village elections for China and the implications for the long-term. We have found a new and encouraging candor and openness to discuss issues that were considered acutely sensitive a mere two years ago. Today, we were able to discuss with government and party officials issues such as democratic elections, the role of non-governmental organizations in the political process, the rights of candidates to monitor the election process, and even the possibility of political parties proposing candidates for elections. Some of these issues are more sensitive than others and people with whom we have spoken on these issues have insisted that their views are personal and would naturally prefer not to be quoted, but we were very impressed at how government and party officials have trusted us to talk about these issues in a very sincere, respectful, and open way. And, more importantly, an important learning process is occurring.

At an important meeting, Mr. Zeng Jianhui, the new Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People?s Congress and a member of the Standing Committee discussed the new amendment to the Organic Law on Village Elections and invited our group to offer commentary on the proposed law ?based on our observations of the villages and experiences elsewhere.? This request was also made by advisors to the legislative commission to the NPC. Mr. Zeng thanked The Carter Center teams: ?Beyond helping Americans understand village elections, you have done much to help Chinese improve our elections by the recommendations in your reports.? He also invited The Carter Center to observe township and county-wide election.

More significant, the decision by the NPC to publish the draft law in order to stimulate national debate is a very encouraging sign and offers the Chinese people a chance to discuss the electoral procedures critical for a free and fair election. The draft law was published in the People?s Daily on June 27, 1998.

We met with the editors of the Tribune for Villages and Townships, a monthly magazine with a circulation of over 800,000 people, mostly in the villages and townships in the country. Established at the end of 1989, the Tribune has assembled an editorial and research staff filled with Ph.D.?s from Beijing University and 3,000 reporters in the field. Their hard-hitting reports have been critical of fraud in some village and most township and county-wide elections. Their reporters could be thought of as monitors of the electoral process. Despite their criticism of local government practices, their reporters have not been harassed or censored.

We met with leaders from the Chinese People?s Political Consultative Conference, who will be visiting the United States in late July. We invited them to The Carter Center to speak on the ?prospects for political parties in China,? and they have accepted the invitation.

The door, in brief, has begun to open. We believe this is the result of many factors. First and perhaps most important, people might feel freer to speak about these issues because of the positive report of President Jiang Zemin at the 15th Party Congress about the importance of village elections for China and the comments made by Premier Zhu Rongji in March about the desirability of having direct, democratic elections for the highest government positions. The closer relationship with the United States and the public exchange between Presidents Jiang Zemin and Bill Clinton will also give additional momentum to broader discussions on political reform in China. Secondly, the economic reforms have given people more space to make decisions that affect their lives, and people naturally feel freer to speak their mind. Third, there is a growing interest in rule of law both by the National People?s Congress and by ordinary people. All this means that the interest in village and other elections is growing, and the need for higher quality elections is increasing.

Village Elections and the Carter Center Project: Next Steps
Establishing a national election system for a country of 930,000 villages is a daunting task, but there is much on which to build. The last decade has provided the villages and government officials with considerable experience, and the government officials at the provincial, county, and township levels in the provinces we visited were very competent and capable of implementing such a system.

1. Forms. At the center of the system are the two forms - on results and assessing the process. Based on the feedback, the Carter Center Team and the MCA agreed to modify the forms, and MCA will send them back to the provinces with an information sheet explaining how and why the forms should be completed and the suggestion that they be forwarded by mail directly to the villages.

2. Training. The CC/MCA team decided to concentrate on making the system work in the three provinces first and to begin preparing for a technical training course for officials.

3. Surveys. It will take a considerable amount of time to wire the entire country and in the interim, it might make more sense to do a national sample to assess the overall state of the village electoral process in the entire nation.

4. Observation of U.S. Elections. A delegation of nine from MCA will be visiting Georgia between July 19-23 to observe the primary elections and to report on them and the Chinese village elections to the public at The Carter Center. Further negotiations on the project will occur during our meetings in Atlanta.

5. CPPCC and NPC. A delegation of five from the Chinese People?s Political Consultative Conference will be visiting the Carter Center in late July soon after the primary elections to discuss prospects for political parties in China and a possible research project on this subject. The NPC also expressed interest in developing collaborative research projects on elections with the Carter Center.

6. New Electoral Law. The next year will be an important one for the discussion of the basic electoral law, and we will prepare comments to the NPC leadership on it.

7. Transmitting Data. A major concern was the time that it often takes to transmit forms from the village to the county and the province. Several officials said this could be facilitated by a clear statement of priority by the government, a designated official at the township level to collect the form and bring it to the county, and synchronized elections to occur on the same date at the county-level. There are additional reasons why synchronizing dates would be advantageous from a civic education standpoint, and indeed, some counties are already experimenting with it.

8. Political Dialogue. During the last two years, the Carter Center?s meetings with the National People?s Congress and the CPPCC deepened to the point that all sides believe that a cooperative relationship involving exchanges and research could be mutually beneficial in the area of comparative elections and political parties. During the next year, we will try to develop these ideas more fully while exploring the possibility of observing township and county-wide elections.

Any constructive partnership - whether between nations, organizations, or individuals - requires sincere efforts to understand each other?s perspective, hopes, and constraints. Among the people of two countries as different as China and the United States, the gap in perception is naturally wide, and it is sometimes difficult to find the right language to make each other?s views understandable, but that is a first step toward narrowing the differences. In our partnership with the MCA, we begin with a commitment to the same value and goal - full, free, and fair elections in villages - and we have continuously looked for procedures to best implement those goals. In the course of this search, we have been frustrated with the gap in our perceptions, but over time, we have learned the bureaucratic, cultural, and governmental constraints. As we have narrowed the gap between our views, we have profited from our differences.

This is the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the village election law, and the Chinese government is in the process of revising it in a manner that will institutionalize the rights of the voter for a free and fair election. A senior official from the MCA told us that the principal motive of farmers is ?autonomy,? and he attributed the miraculous development of the countryside in the last decade to the farmers? new autonomy. This is a recognition that the basis of China?s political and economic development requires not just macroeconomic restructuring; real development in China must be based on the individual rights and autonomy of its people.