Jul 16

Guiyang party secretary selection has a democratic flavor

Written by Buxi on Wednesday, July 16th, 2008 at 7:49 pm
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Southwestern Guizhou province is again in the news, but this time for a good reason. Roland at ESWN translates a Xinhua article on China’s on-going experimentation with political reform as seen in the city of Guiyang. Guiyang is trying to appoint party secretaries to four districts and counties, and chose to do so in a more transparent, democratic way.

What exactly is the experiment? It’s not Western democracy, but it’s also not business as usual. A CCTV report (video below) explains the process:

  • 82 candidates were publicly nominated for the four positions; 81 of them passed the initial screening process.
  • a conference made up of “responsible figures” in the Guiyang city government, and Party representatives from different industries select five candidates for each position, 20 candidates in all.
  • these 20 candidates appeared at a public conference, widely broadcast via TV and internet, and were graded for their performance. The candidates gave speeches, debated, and answered questions posed by the public.
  • the 8 candidates (two per district) with the highest grades were selected to go on. The grading is broken down this way: “democratic nomination” (20%), “research report” (20%), “public speech and debate” (20%), “public opinion” (30%), “estimate of leadership capability” (10%).
  • the final selection between these two candidates per district is made by the local People’s Congress.

Here is the news report from CCTV:

My first impression after watching the video… my god, these candidates are young.

My second and more meaningful thought… the very public attention from Xinhua and CCTV shows the central government is paying attention to this type of experiment. Although the process is still very awkward and not completely transparent (the grading process is very mysterious and open for abuse), I think it’s at least a step forward. Forcing officials to answer (difficult) questions from the people, forcing officials to publicly compete for a position will hopefully be a reminder of who their true bosses are supposed to be.

Clearly, the process can’t stop here. A long journey of continuous political reform will hopefully follow.

UPDATE: Doing a little more research, it looks like this mechanism has been used in the past for lower ranking officials. This is the first time it’s been raised up to the district or county party secretary spot, and certainly the first time this process have been so widely publicized before and after. Other mainland Chinese reports have pointed out that only a small group of local officials could even be nominated for the contest.

The reforms planned in Shenzhen and Guangzhou are likely more ground-breaking.

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19 Responses to “Guiyang party secretary selection has a democratic flavor”

  1. Nimrod Says:

    More significantly to me at least, this is moving towards a concensus selection model where the candidates’ records and past performances are also explicitly considered. When has that ever happened in a Western “democratic” horse race/beauty contest? … In the Western model, the opponents (especially challengers to an incumbent) have a hard enough time bringing up something … anything that sticks, nevermind any real evaluation. That is a huge problem with Western systems, no actual accountability and nearly all campaign promises mean nothing.

  2. MutantJedi Says:

    I agree Nimrod. Sure we get to vote on a number of names on a slip of paper but how did those names get on that paper in the first place. In the last election in Alberta, the real contest happened in the Conservative’s leadership convention – not in the public ballet. If you wanted a real vote for the leadership, you should buy a Conservative party membership.

  3. FOARP Says:

    @Nimrod – By ‘western’ you seem to mean ‘American’ – I can’t see how you could look at something like Irish, Dutch, Swiss or British politics and describe it as a ‘horse-race/beauty contest’

  4. Buxi Says:


    I’m ignorant of the fundamental difference between these systems. Can you give us a summary, and how they differ from American politics, how they avoid being a horse-race/beauty contest?

  5. JL Says:

    @ Buxi,

    I’m not really sure what is meant by “horse race/ beauty contest”, but there are significant differences between the electoral systems in different Western countries. One of the most basic differences is between those countries that use proportional representation models (New Zealand, most of northern Europe -not the UK though) and those countries that don’t (like the US). You can read up on it in Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation
    Basically, the outcome of it is that it’s not a waste of your vote to vote for smaller parties, which means a broader range of choices for voters, a broader range of opinions in parliament. It also tends to mean that all the deal-making, guanxi building, factionalism is more open to the public. I think its a better system than that used in the US. Is it less likely to produce beauty contests? Again, I’m not sure what that means. Politics here does get a bit vulgar at times. But then the system outlined above also has its own flaws: like how will the public feel if their clear favourite doesn’t end up being chosen? -I’m not saying its a bad system, but I don’t see it as clear winner over other models.

  6. FOARP Says:

    @Buxi – What JL said, plus many countries do not have presidential elections – they have parliamentary elections. Most people who vote in parliamentary elections are doing so on party lines – not particularly on personality, and coalition governments are allowed.

  7. Opersai Says:

    @JL & FOARP,

    I’m not sure how well and successful this above mentioned system will be. But what impress me most isn’t the particular rules or ways it functions, but that it is an adventure to find alternative democracy system other than, say US/Canadian election democracy. I assume you also know alone with many advantages, the electoral democracy also has many disadvantages – huge chunks of money wasted each time, empty political promise etc. Can there be more efficient way to select more competent leaders than the elections? I think we certainly don’t have to stop there.

    ps. As for Europe system, I have yet to read up.

  8. Wahaha Says:

    Proportional representation is not effective in solving problems, see India.

    In election system, the government is controled by a very small group of system.

    In an authoritarian system, very effective in solving problems but it highly depends on “wise and good” leaders, which nobody know what they expect until they see the result, hence great potential danger.

  9. Wahaha Says:

    Sorry, made a mistake.

    In election system, the government is controled by a very small group of riches and elite, not real democracy.

  10. Wahaha Says:

    China now is Proportional representation within the party, but with media and information control, CCP doesnt have much credit among Chinese.

    Dont know if it is possible that one-party system and freedom of information and media can co-exist, maybe like Singapore, but it also involve the problems of freedom of religion and organization.

  11. JL Says:


    “Dont know if it is possible that one-party system and freedom of information and media can co-exist,”

    Thats the great question that we might find out the answer to as China continues to reform.

    Concerning Singapore, I can see how its an appealing model for China. but my opinion is that despite the common Chinese heritage, China and Singapore are too different to expect that the same political system could work in both. China is a little bit bigger than Singapore, to start with, and has a touch more regional variation.

  12. Wahaha Says:


    Here is link about Vietnam (if you can read Chinese), I think it is a democracy within party,


  13. Charles Liu Says:

    Wahaha, independents as well as advisory party candidates are now competitive in China’s elections.

    – Coverage of 2003 district People’s Congress deputies in Beijing, where independent candidates are nominated by any group of 10 or more voters during the:


    – Primary election coverage of above election, where combination of primaries and caucases where used:


    Here’s a balanced critique of China’s election system:


  14. Wahaha Says:


    Thx for the link,

    From the link in #12, I feel that vast majority of people only care if they are given the choice, whether the candidates are from one-party or from different party is not important. Hopefully this will allow CCP open the door for election from bottom to top.

  15. Buxi Says:


    I agree. Many of those insisting on multi-party candidates (or at least candidates outside of the Communist Party) hold a deep grudge against the CCP. For those of us who don’t love the CCP and also don’t have a grudge against it, we just want to see a “democratic” system in which politicians and public servants respect the wishes and interests of the people. If the CCP had internal democracy, it would go along way towards achieving that goal.

    I’m definitely watching political reforms in Vietnam closely.

  16. FOARP Says:

    @Buxi – Democracy is not simply the right to choose between a selection of faces – how can there be democracy where there is no manifesto put before the people?

    @Nimrod – “this is moving towards a concensus selection model where the candidates’ records and past performances are also explicitly considered. When has that ever happened in a Western “democratic” horse race/beauty contest?”

    I don’t know, let me think, it could be . . . . umm . . . .ahhh . . . . ALL OF THEM?!? I’m presuming you live in the US – haven’t you noticed all those adverts you’ve been seeing on television lately? Now, try listening to what the candidates are actually saying (I know it’s hard, but try) d’you notice how many of them seem to be talking about past achievements and they’ve performed well as governors/congressmen?

  17. JL Says:


    Thanks for the link about Vietnam; it looks like an interesting system.
    In spite of what you might think, I’m really not opposed to China having its own system of democracy. It would be pretty weird if I thought all countries in the world should adopt New Zealand’s electoral system. But I do think there’s no point in trumpeting new reforms in China as inherently better than the variety of other models that exist in other countries. Sure, China’s developing systems will have their strong points, but they will also have their disadvantages, which need to be discussed.
    The exciting thing about China is that politics is changing, and that lots of new ideas are emerging, so lets make the most of this situation and have a proper discussion about them, rather than just getting stuck at the level of “ours is better than yours”.

  18. JD Says:

    Just keep it simple and let the people vote. The only purpose of such a convoluted process is to ensure that the democratic flavour tastes sour. Unimpressive. Any serious move towards political reform deserves public debate and scrutiny. That’s not happening.

  19. Charles Liu Says:

    JD, it’s no more convoluted than what ours:


    Above describes 1) nomination process by nominating bodies; 2) local primaries, before general elections of local representatives.

    It’s similiar that what we have in the US.

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