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Chinese Urbanites Select 'Community Premiers'

A sort of one-person-one-vote approach has gradually won favor among China's city dwellers for their selection of heads of neighborhood committees.

"Implementing self-governance according to law and serving the residents heartily," pledged the recently elected members of the neighborhood committee at Rugaoli community in Hebei District of Tianjin Municipality, north China.

Approximately 500,000 members nationwide of more than 115,000 neighborhood committees, which are a sort of grassroots self-governance management and service organization for urban residents across China, have been affectionately referred by former Premier Zhu Rongji as "community premiers".

A neighborhood committee usually consist of several to a dozen leading members to handle the day-to-day affairs of local residents: from street security and family planning matters to helping local residents, especially those laid-off workers find new jobs and passing out government subsidies to those needy residents.

According to Zhang Guohan, deputy head of Hebei District's civil affairs bureau, the one-person-one-vote approach was applied for all residents who have the right to vote and to be elected in the district. No candidates will be designated in advance and any grown-up residents is allowed to volunteer for the post.

By contrast, members of a neighborhood committee used to be appointed by local government or be chosen by deputies of residents from among a batch of candidates recommended by the local government.

Participants in the competition for the membership of the neighborhood committee of Rugaoli community included people aging from 30 to 70. They made a campaign speech one by one and challenged by the voters.

Voters' questions ranged from, as a neighborhood committee head, how to ensure security of the community to how to handle residents' call for help and how to help the laid-off to be re-employed.

"No government invention occurred in the whole process of election," said Zhang Guohan.

"The local government only gave the community advice, instead of instructions in the past," Zhang added.

Tianjin is not the first in China to adopt the volunteer-oriented one-person-one-vote approach.

In 2002, residents at Suojinsicun community of Xuanwu District, Nanjing City, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, initiated the method to choose the neighborhood committee head.

Since then, the election approach has gradually been employed at communities in Beijing, Changsha, Wuxi, Nantong, Nanchang, Tianjin and some other big cities across China, becoming a means to help develop the urban grassroot democracy with residents' self-governance as the core.

After the campaign speeches, 3,692 out of 4,130 residents at Rugaoli community voted. The ballots were counted in public on the scene.

The newly elected committee head, Sun Shixuan told Xinhua, "Selected by almost all the local residents, I'm sensing the responsibility on my shoulder and the hope they've pinned on me."

"I used to think neighborhood committee election has nothing to do with me," said Sun Mei, a resident at Rugaoli community. "Now everyone in the community has a say in the selection."

Another local resident Liu Chungui considered that the change in the procedure to form a neighborhood committee signified the progress in democracy in Chinese society.

Prof. Hao Maishou with the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences said currently, grassroot democracy is robust in diversified forms in China.

(Xinhua News Agency April 12, 2006)

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