This is how delegates in China’s highest legislature voted for president: Each was handed a ballot with one name on it: Xi Jinping (習近平). Each dropped it in a box.
No mark was required to vote for Xi, so calling it rubber-stamping suggests more work than there actually was.
Any suspense about the choice of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership was lifted in November last year, when Xi became the party’s general secretary. Thursday’s vote by nearly 3,000 delegates for Xi’s more ceremonial title of president was a mere ritual.
“Our job is to raise our hands,” said Han Deyun (韓德雲), a lawyer from the megacity of Chongqing and one of the few National People’s Congress (NPC) delegates who are not from the party.
Delegates like him are supposed to add a veneer of democracy to the proceedings.
“We raise our hands to give them legitimacy,” he said in an interview.
Last week, in a legislative session that ended on Sunday, the CCP was wrapping up the country’s once-a-decade power transition through what it calls elections for key government posts. In reality, there is usually one candidate per slot, all candidates are trusted insiders and the results are predetermined.
The highly choreographed congress serves a practical purpose — installing a president, a premier and other ministers who will oversee the world’s second-largest economy. However, some Chinese are tired of what they see as a hollow affair.
“The voting by the national delegates is completely meaningless,” Chinese writer Murong Xuecun (慕容雪村) said in an interview.
“If they were replaced with 3,000 machines, the result would be the same. On this matter, the free will of those deputies has been taken away,” he added.
The comments by Han and Murong Xuecun reflect a growing tendency among a minority of Chinese — especially intellectuals and often in online forums — to openly call out the contradictions in the country’s political system.
“It could be a vocal minority,” Hong Kong-based China Media Project researcher David Bandurski said. “But still, that’s important.”
To be sure, many Chinese and most NPC delegates still toe the party line, as spread by a propaganda machine that touts China’s election system as a true, advanced democracy, and presses the message home in textbooks and state-controlled media.
The day before Thursday’s presidential election, delegate Mai Qingquan (麥慶泉) dismissed any suggestion that China’s next president had already been determined.
“Nothing has been decided,” said Mai, a businessman from Guangdong Province. “It’s like the election of [US President Barack] Obama. It can only be decided after the votes are taken. No one is guaranteed.”
The CCP controls elections large and small, though rural Chinese have been allowed to pick the heads of their villages for the past three decades. Urban Chinese vote for district legislators, all carefully vetted. Beyond that, elections are indirect.
Municipal-level legislatures select mayors and other local officials, who in turn select representatives to higher legislatures through control of their congress. At the highest level, national delegates vote on key central government positions such as president, vice president, supreme judge, premier, ministers and top military commander.
Most Chinese citizens have never seen a ballot, and no matter at which level, these legislatures rubber-stamp the slate of candidates presented by the CCP. It orchestrates the outcomes by vetting all candidates and in most cases ensuring that there is only one candidate for each position to fill.