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Village Elections Project Begins in China

A Carter Center delegation traveled to China in June to hlep its government establish a data collection system for village elections and standardizing procedures nationwide. Their visit is the result of a landmark agreement signed by the People's Republic of China and the Center this spring.

We are very excited about this project," former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said. "We hope the cooperation we develop with the Chinese government will help improve the village election process and serve as a foundation for direct elections at higher levels of government in the future."

The delegation and China's Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) will install the data system in nine counties in Fujian, Hunan, and Jilin provinces. Village officials will record and assess election results on survey forms and send them to the county level for computer entry. Officials then will determine which elections were democratic and competitive, as law requires, and which ones were flawed.

"Since 1987, the Organic Law on Village Elections—an outgrowth of reforms by the late Premier Deng Xiao-ping—has mandated the basic elements of democratic elections such as a secret ballot, freedom of choice, a public count, and regular elections," said Robert Pastor, director of the Center's China Village Elections Project. "But no one knows how many villages are following the rules. The new data system will help answer that question."

A second Carter Center delegation will travel to China in August to con-tinue work on the system. In July, a high-level Chinese delegation from the MCA and the three pilot provinces will observe Georgia's primary elections during the first of two visits to Atlanta. In addition, the Center is planning a voter education project to teach villagers why their ballots count and why they need to vote in private.

Township officials explain to voters in Qiu Wo village how they should mark their ballots, voting once for village chair, once for vice chair, and twice for committee members.

Last year, a Carter Center delegation first observed local elections in Fujian and Hebei provinces at the invitation of the Chinese government. A second delegation visited in March this year to observe nine village elections in Jilin and Liaoning provinces. The China Village Elections Project agreement was signed during the trip.

"Much remains to be done for village elections in China to become a firm foundation for grassroots democracy," said Dr. Pastor, who has led each delegation. "But we are impressed by the villagers' determination to have free and fair elections and by the government's commitment to improve the process to ensure genuine competition."


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