Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been re-elected as leaders of their countries. Despite differences in the format of the elections, the results were essentially the same, and in both cases, Western leaders were less than effusive in their reactions.
The two leaders congratulated each other on the news of their re-election, which came as little surprise, as the two are cut from the same cloth.
At the same time, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that, as with Xi’s first visit overseas after his initial ascension to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary and national leader, his first visit this time around would again be to Russia. Russia has also said that Putin will visit China this year.
Since 1993, Chinese leaders have [mostly] simultaneously held the trio of positions of general secretary of the CCP, chairman of the Central Military Commission and president.
Xi is the first leader since that time to be elected president with no opposing votes: Over the past 25 years, during the four elections of his two predecessors — former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) — a nominal number of symbolic votes, no more than 36 at one time, were cast against the candidate and abstentions recorded.
That Xi was unwilling to countenance even symbolic votes against his candidacy does not mean that he is more popular than either Jiang or Hu, or that he is seen as a more capable leader; it merely demonstrates that he intends to rule with an iron hand, allowing no dissent, and that his control extends deep into every aspect of voting by the “people’s representatives.”
Xi’s unblemished ballot is something even the CCP’s hallowed godfather himself, Mao Zedong (毛澤東), would have to concede on.
In September 1949, when the CCP was electing the chairman of its National Political Consultative Conference, Mao received 575 votes, one short of the total 576. While it was widely assumed at the time that Mao had voted against himself as an expression of humility, it turned out that he had cast his vote for himself. He managed to turn it to his advantage, saying that one vote short was still one vote short and that he had to respect the right of the person to vote against him.
That is not to say that he did not seek out the culprit, who it was later discovered was China Democratic League secretary-general Zhang Dongsun (張東蓀). In 1951, Zhang was stripped of all his duties for his involvement in a scandal involving leaking of information to the US and he spent his last days in Qincheng Prison.
Zhang’s story was sure to have been playing on the minds of the “people’s representatives” on the eve of this month’s vote. Why would they not heed the lessons of the past?
Xi also had something entirely unprecedented arranged for the occasion: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army honor guard marched into the Great Hall of the People during the oath of allegiance to the Chinese constitution. Faced with this kind of “persuasion,” why would the rather well-to-do “people’s representatives” not cast a safe vote?
Putin has managed to stay in power by extending the presidential term from four years to six and swapping places for one term with his prime minister. However, he did not dare to go as far as to amend the Russian constitution to abolish presidential term limits, nor did he, in a country where public trust in the fairness of general elections is already low, think to make it look like he received 100 percent of the vote.
Russian authorities conceded that the turnout for the latest election was only 60 percent, and that Putin won 76.3 percent of the vote. Would Xi have been satisfied with figures like these?
Does anyone believe the number of votes that Xi or Putin received? Purely from the figures, it appears that Xi is more popular than Putin, but do the facts bear this out? The exact opposite is the truth.
If Russian-style presidential elections were held in China, voter turnout would be lower still, as would Xi’s share of the vote. Dictators have no need to engage in arduous election campaigns, nor do they need a seer to tell them what the election result will be before the big day. That Xi performed better than Putin in the election simply shows that China is more totalitarian, less civilized and less transparent than Russia.
In the waning years of the Qing Dynasty, Chinese secretary of state Li Hongzhang (李鴻章) went to Russia and met with then-Russian prime minister Count Sergei Witte.
Witte wanted to inform the Tsar of a fatal incident that had occurred, but Li said to him: “If I were an official of your empire, I would not trouble the czar with all of this. Why make the poor man worry?”
From this, Witte realized that Russia was far more advanced than imperial China. Putin might well have come to the same conclusion about communist China.
Yu Jie is an exiled Chinese dissident writer.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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