Fri, Jul 09, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Chinese mayoral posts now open to some comers

REUTERS , Beijing

Positions vacant: five dynamic college-educated vice mayors aged below 45 to help run cities in China's booming east. Membership of Communist Party preferred but not mandatory. Apply to the provincial government.

Several Chinese provinces, including Zhejiang, are experimenting with selecting instead of appointing city government officials in a search for real checks and balances to curb rampant corruption.

"Ordinary people and people of the highest level know corruption is quite serious," said Qin Hui (秦暉), who teaches humanities and social science at Beijing's Tsinghua University and is a visiting scholar at Harvard University.

"But whether it will be effective remains to be seen," Qin said.

In January, Jintan in Jiangsu Province became the first city to select a mayor, instead of appoint one, in more than five decades.

Wuwei in dirt-poor Gansu Province in the northwest began a search for a vice mayor in May. Wenchang and Danzhou in Hainan Province and Xiangfan in Hubei Province followed suit last month.

Reform-minded intellectuals want direct election of national leaders, an end to a ban on the formation of new political parties, a free press and depoliticization of the military.

But the Communists have rejected calls for Western-style democracy.

Zhejiang began accepting applications this week for 24 government job openings, including five vice mayors who will be sent to as yet unspecified cities.

But not everyone will qualify. Candidates must hold a rank equivalent to at least a provincial department director and pass a written exam and will be grilled by a government task force.

Results are expected by the end of next month.

But in true Communist fashion, the party will have the final say. The successful candidate still needs to be anointed by the Communist-dominated local people's congress.

"The party wants to be able to control the outcome of any election," said a Chinese political analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 68 million-member party has restricted elections to village levels, fearing a similar fate to that of its brethren in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

But it is eager for transparency and accountability to curb chronic corruption but wants to cling to power.

"Democracy is still far away ... but fair and free elections and a free press may help reduce corruption," Qin said.

Corruption was virtually wiped out in the years after the Communists came to power but has staged a comeback in the wake of economic reforms introduced in the late 1970s.

China's leaders have warned in recent years that the party faces self-destruction if it fails to crack down on corruption, a scourge that has toppled many dynasties.

Prosecutors investigated 41,797 officials in the first 11 months of last year for corruption -- an average of 126 a day. No comparative figures were available.

Twelve officials who held a rank equivalent to Cabinet vice minister or higher were sacked or jailed last year.

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