This year is going to see more than 300,000 villagers' committees in 18 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions to be voted by direct ballot. About this, Zhan Chengfu, director of the department in charge of administration for basic level of the Ministry of Civil Affairs accepted the interview by the reporter in regard of the construction of democracy at the grass-root level in rural areas.
Three major transitions realized over a decade of years
Q: "Popular election" known as "Haixuan" is an expression most frequently used in the rural election. What does it refer to in general?
A: "Haixuan" (popular election) is a local twang in northeast China, which refers to the vote by direct ballot at the basic level in the countryside. It is an aboriginal system of democracy out from the Chinese soil and so it is again known as "grass-root democracy". It has two significances: one being that whoever is of 18 years of age and a qualified villager enjoys the right of direct vote instead of being elected via village or household representatives, and another being that the personnel composition of working staffs, recommendation of candidates and formal election for villagers' committee are all resulted from vote by direct ballot. Therefore, it is more direct and extensive in the sense of election.
Q: How's the situation of Haixuan (popular election) carried out in rural areas?
A: Since the proclamation of the "Organizational Law for Villagers' Committee (draft)" on 1 June 1988 there has witnessed the completion of five times of elections in 27 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. Though due to the fact that the popular elections were not unified till the end of 1990s in Guangdong, Hainan, Yunnan and Chongqing and other areas yet they've also fulfilled 2 or 3 times of elections. So far almost all 600,000 villagers' committees in the whole country are conducting direct elections and the only difference lies in the systematization and standardization.
Therefore, it can be said that the election at the basic level in China's rural areas has realized three transitions in over a decade of years, namely from a system of appointment to election, from an indirect election to direct election and the transition from a low degree of democracy to a relatively high degree of democracy.
Democratic consciousness grows out from nurturing
Q: What do you think about the "bribed vote" that appeared in the rural elections over the past few years?
A: the bribed election is an abnormal phenomenon that emerged in the course for democratic politics. That must be resolutely prohibited and sanctioned. However, at the same time it also means that the weight of election is getting heavier and we must not give up an undertaking on account of a small obstacle. The democracy at the basic level in rural areas can only be solved and improved when overcoming problems in the practice.
Q: A point of view says that Chinese farmers are of low quality and not suitable for practicing democracy among them. What's you opinion of it?
A: This is the logic of a lazy bone. The quality and consciousness of democracy is raised through nurturing and tempering in practice. At the very beginning some villagers paid no attention to ballot ticket, thinking that it had nothing to do with them and there appeared quite a number of void and invalid votes. But gradually they came to realize that the votes were really of use and began to take a serious attitude towards it when balloting once again. The democratic consciousness is nurtured and in the democratic construction at the grass-root level we are all practitioners.
Time already mature for working out a voting law of villagers' committee
Q: Is there any such problem as short of a legal basis for rectifying and regulating the "bribed vote" in the election of the villagers' committee?
A: Yes, you are right there. There is only one article dealing with the problem in the existing "Organizational Law for Villager's Committee" and moreover it is in principle only and vague in sense. There's no definition on what is a bribed vote, nor is there any definite rule as regards how to deal with the problem and so it is somewhat difficult to handle the problem. Now what we can do is only to work out on the basis as a related department some rules and regulations that can be used by local administration for reference. When these rules or regulations are testified to be correct and suitable in practice they can be taken in as amendments for the legislation. This is an accumulative process in the construction of a system.
Q: Have you ever come across a situation in which you are in short of a legal basis in the practical work?
A: Yes, there is. Due to the legal defect and absence it's impossible for us to include the rescue of democratic rights for the ordinary people into the legal protection and the present rescue remains only by way of petition letters. As the violation of the voting law and rules in the vote for villagers' committee has many things to do with the county and township governments farmers can find nowhere to get things justified from the local governments nor is it possible for them to solve the problem by legal means. And with the problem focused on few departments to handle it has caused a heavy pressure on the work.
Q: These years have heard louder voices for working out the voting law for villagers' committee. What is your opinion of it?
A: Time is ripe now for working out a voting law for villagers' committee. The practice of the local rules and regulations has laid a foundation for the establishment of a voting law for villagers' committee. And during the practice of over a decade of years we've also come to accumulate a lot of experiences and lessons. During these years the lawyers have made a deeper study on the vote for villagers' committee and some of them have even worked out over 100 draft articles about it. We've already established a basis in all aspects and moreover the vote at the grass-root level has everything to do with the broad masses of the people and so to work out a statutory law will be able to yield a very good result for fostering legal consciousness from among the masses of the people.
(People's Daily February 1, 2005)