As a member of the media I often work late into the night, meaning getting up and out for 8:00am can sometimes be a challenge. However, this week, one day was different – there was an election taking place for members of the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress (similar, maybe, to council elections in London). I was curious how the process would go, so I skipped breakfast and went straight to the polling station to see for myself.
To be honest, my first impression of the voting venue was that it felt like a market. It was noisy, and even complete strangers were standing around chatting as they cast their votes.
Voting was held in the hall of the first floor, with about half a dozen civil servants checking everyone’s voting cards. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t listed as being pre-registered. This usually stops you from voting, but as I mentioned in a previous entry, I registered with two middle-aged ladies who came to my apartment.
I admit I got a little agitated when the civil servant explained the situation to me. But eventually, he told me not to worry and re-registered my details, before telling me to enter the voting hall.
The hall had three sections: one for registering, another for confirming voters’ identity, and the last one the actual voting section itself. Once inside, I pondered my choices. Who should I vote for?
An elderly woman handed me a purple voting slip. She pointed out the different candidates – one was a factory owner, one was a district head, and the other was an imam from a nearby mosque. She made some helpful “suggestions” on who I should vote for, specifically recommending those from the previous administration.
I decided to ask her some questions, including why I should vote for those elected in the previous election? She didn’t seem impressed, and asked why I had so many questions.
The comment gave me a jolt. Looking around, I realized that I was one of the younger voters here. I’d say 90 percent or more of the people in the hall looked at least 50 years-old. When I finished voting around 8:30am, there were around 30 to 40 people in the queue.
Incidentally, I didn’t listen to the woman in the voting hall. I voted for the imam.
When I got home, I wondered whether every polling station was like mine. Certainly I don’t doubt there’s plenty of enthusiasm elsewhere, just as there was at my local voting hall, where I saw people arriving in wheelchairs, despite the cool temperatures.
But having experienced the voting process first hand, there are clearly some issues that need to be addressed to ensure successful elections in the future. For a start, most polling stations are only open during regular working hours, and no holiday was called to make it easier for working people to vote. Also, no one really knows anything about the candidates. Aside from their names, ages, sex and occupations, I knew little about who I could vote for.
Unless you take the “suggestion” of the civil servants manning the polls, it seems there’s little for Chinese to go on.