A mountain township in southwest China's Sichuan province has smashed the long-established rule of cadre nomination of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in a direct election of the township Party committee.
Eight CPC members in Lingshan Township, of Pingchang County, competed for five posts in the committee, including committee secretary.
The election was regarded by Shen Baoxiang, a noted professor of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, as a "breakthrough" in the selection of Party committee secretary and members, as traditionally CPC members were denied direct elections at township level or above.
Party committees at township level are leading organs of township government, which lie at the bottom of the hierarchy of the Chinese governmental set-up.
The CPC county committee of Pingchang, which oversees the township Party committee of Lingshan, handled the direct election in a low-key way, said Zheng Kaiping, deputy secretary of the county Party committee and director of the election in Lingshan.
"As this had never happened in the country before, we were not sure what comment or instructions we could expect from our superior Party committee," Zheng said. "But we firmly believe what we did was right."
All the Party members in the township could apply to run, but campaigners had to give a speech on his working agenda at a township meeting of Party members and only winners could become formal candidates. Some 220 Party members from the township participated in the final polling.
The election was favored and applauded by prestigious Party theoreticians.
Prof. Yan Shuhan and Prof. Lu Xianfu, both from the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, believed that the election in Lingshan conformed with the CPC constitution, which did not prohibit the direct election of secretaries of CPC committees.
The CPC has approximately 3.5 million grassroots units across China and the committees of these units, led by the secretaries, act as policy-makers for local social and economic development.
Due partly to influence from the former Soviet Union, the systems of the CPC, including that of election, were products of the war years before 1949 and the post-liberation period preceding1978, when the Communist Party decided to launch a reform and opening-up drive in the country. Experts said some aspects of the systems were no longer appropriate in an era of reform.
The construction of a democratic mechanism within the Party was highlighted at the 16th CPC National Congress held in October 2002.The Congress called for the guarantee of the democratic rights of Party members.
Calling it a new great drive, the top leadership of the Party underlined the importance of reform in Party building.
Shen Baoxiang, the Party School professor, said the election in Lingshan was in compliance with the guidelines of the 16th CPC Congress and was an "enlightening event" in the development of political civilization, an objective the Party set forth at the Congress.
"In the past, regular Party members had no right to elect CPC committee members. This time, however, we chose the cadres we wanted through the direct election. We exercised our democratic rights," said Wu Gaoyi, a Party member who took part in the vote.
Qin Changbin, incumbent deputy head of Lingshan Township who was elected deputy secretary of the township committee, said the election made a winner feel "more accountable and motivated".
"Selected by the electors, I feel I should prove myself trustworthy to my fellow Party members while being responsible to my superiors," said Qin, who won 170 votes.
(Xinhua News Agency December 15, 2003)