China Power

My Chinese Election

Voting in China has often seemed pointless. But more independent candidates suggests a change.

Through the first half of next year, the National People’s Congress is in the process of electing new members to ‘endorse’ the new Chinese government in 2013.

The electoral process started here in Beijing in the middle of last month, and I’m glad to have the chance to be a voter. This isn’t my first election, but I haven’t had the chance to vote in a poll since I was still at university, almost 10 years ago. I remember back then my teacher organizing us into groups to vote in the school hall. Our voting slips were prepared for us beforehand and were sent to each individual.

There were two candidates back then, both of whom were teachers at the school. However, I wasn’t in either of their classes, so didn’t really know much about them. They didn’t give any public speeches, and they didn’t have any contact with us as candidates. As a result, we didn’t understand what benefits they might bring, so students simply wrote one of their names down on the ballot so that they could go play football or whatever other activity they wanted to get back to. I remember some students even decided who to vote for by tossing a coin.

After graduating, there was another election, but I don’t remember taking part in that, or even being notified to vote. I think the fact that I can’t really remember anything about it is a reflection of how most Chinese back then felt about elections.

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Today, though, China is quite different. I have friends who have become ‘independent’ candidates – a huge step forward in China’s democracy. The desire of people to run also underscores the heightened awareness among Chinese of the electoral process.

Registration began on September 15 and ran until this weekend. All registered residents of Beijing over the age of 18 can opt to vote, as well as some from outside Beijing who have lived in the capital for a certain number of years (although such voters must state where they have come from, and their registration can be cancelled if they’ve registered to vote there, too).

There are several places where people can register to vote. The most common place being is a local government office, although it’s also possible to register at work or school. I chose the former.

A few weeks back, I was watching TV at home when there was a knock at my door. On my doorstep were two elderly women who handed me a red leaflet outlining the significance of participating in the election. One of them asked about where I was registered to vote, while the other one asked for some personal details. They asked me to fill out my address, name and contact telephone number. This information will be checked before a voter card and instructions on where I should vote are issued.

The two women were very enthusiastic about the election, telling me I should vote because it’s my democratic right. They told me they’d be visiting every household in the district to urge them to vote, and I have to say I thought it was encouraging to see such dedication out of office hours.

But I am also a little confused.

People in other countries usually know something about who they will be voting for, such as where the candidate stands on certain issues, and what they are promising to do. The problem here is that even though I’ve registered, I still don’t know anything about the candidates.

Actually, I raised this point with the two women who came to my house, to which one of them replied: ‘We don’t know who the candidates are either, but you’ll find out when it comes to voting. You can vote for who you want, every candidate is the same.’

Such views are typical among that generation – as long as it’s a Chinese Communist Party candidate, everyone is apparently the same. The problem is, we’re in the 21st century, and society has changed tremendously. People’s beliefs have changed from 50 years ago. If elections remain only superficially democratic, they’ve lost their meaning.

Of course, these two women were only doing what they were instructed to do by their superiors – they’re not really interested in who actually gets elected.

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Still, I’ve been waiting for my voter card. My vote may be insignificant now, but I hope that eventually, it will count toward China’s future.