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8.05.2008

Electoral corruption said to be 1-3%


As the draft amendments of the Organic Law of Residents' Committees (居民委员会组织法修订草案) were submitted to the State Council, officers at the Ministry of Civil Affairs made some interesting statements:

Electoral corruption and other forms of unfair competition in the election of villagers' committeesnare on the rise. Judging from letters, visits, petition and the situation reported by local authorities, vote buying in village elections is between 1 - 3%, more or less
在我国农村基层村委会选举中,贿选等一些无序竞争现象有增多趋势。从信访、上访以及地方掌握的情况看,村委会选举的贿选比例大在1%至3%之间。(原文)



This seems an optimistic estimate to me. Corruption is the only crime for which reliable figures do not exist. Otherwise, TI wouldn't have invested its time and resources in elaborating an index of how people PERCEIVE corruption to be pervasive in countries other than theirs. [perceptions needn't always be correct. I, for instance, perceive 水煮鱼 as refreshing.] So I wonder how this article came up with these figures in the first place. And if the petitions, letters and visits can be considered an accurate indicator of the diffusion of electoral corruption.

The article goes on to mention that vote buying is often difficult to prove (认定困难), that legislation on this crime is unclear (不明确) etc. I do agree on this.

Vote buying often occurs in the most creative ways. Helping the poorest families in the village pay their bills/rent shortly before the election is one of them. Giving temporary jobs to people is another one. Getting the help of organized crime is yet another possibility. In the case of China, I've read of entrepreneurs distributing bags of rice and fanbianmian (instant noodles) to villagers a few days before the elections. These are quite simple forms of corruption, that may soon evolve into more sophisticated ones. The first signs of this "evolution" can be observed already.

Proving that the parties reached an agreement, that money changed hands and that the villager actually cast his ballot for those who paid him can be difficult. First, votes are sold for sums that seem ridiculous to us: 30 to 50 Euros (46-77 USD), sometimes a bit more. Such a small exchange can easily go unnoticed. Second, such agreements are often unspoken, based on tacit consensus. Third, the causal link between the payment and voting behaviour may not always be apparent. What if the parties have known each other for ages and keep an exchange relationship between them? Could a bribe be disguised as a gift to a friend in need?

Legislation on electoral corruption is significantly less developed than legislation on bribery and embezzlement. The Criminal Law contains no precise definition of this crime. It simply states that

a person who undermines the election or prevents the voters (....) from exercising their rights or electing or standing for elections by means of (...) bribes (...) shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, criminal detention or deprivation of political rights if the circumstances are serious. (Art. 256)

Penalties for electoral corruption are also lighter than penalties for graft and bribery. By reading legal case-books and the Chinese language literature on corruption, one gets the impression that this crime on the whole receives less attention than deserved.

It is also interesting to see how - while the CCP has issued two circulars on this matter (see below) article 256 of the Criminal Law hasn't been amended yet. Let's wait for the revision of the Organic Law......


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