Newly-rich candidates promise cash handouts if elected

China's local village leaders, long trumpeted by Beijing as an experiment in grass-roots democratization, are increasingly being elected on the basis of post-election cash payments to villagers, recent investigative reporting by RFA's Mandarin service has found.

In a village near Hejing city, in the northern province of Shanxi, one candidate for the village chief�s position paid out a total of 2.3 million yuan (U.S. $278,000) during a recent election, villages told RFA reporter Gao Shan.

Villagers in Laoyaotou village, near Hejing, have a per capita annual income of around 1,000 yuan (U.S. $120). In an election for the job of village chief in April, candidates promised handouts of between 1,800 and 2,000 yuan if elected. One villager, identified only by his surname, Zhang, said the villagers were happy with the situation.

"His money-giving gesture shows he cares and he wants to reward ordinary people," Zhang said of village chief Wang Yufeng, who paid out 1,800 yuan to villagers after his election.

"Our major concern is to see if he can contribute to the prosperity of the village."

Zhang said that the amount of money handed out was less important that a perception that the future village leader would be able to increase incomes in the medium to long-term. He said the villagers were very happy with Wang's leadership so far.

"He has fulfilled every one of his campaign promises," Zhang said. "For villagers, the most important thing is to see if he can make a contribution to the well being of the village. Another candidate offered to give everyone 2,000 yuan and he wasn�t elected."

A resident of a nearby village in the same county, identified by his surname Wang, said conditions were similar in his local elections, where candidates were willing to hand out "a few hundred yuan" to villagers if elected.

While the villagers RFA contacted appeared happy with the arrangements, Chinese political experts say the practice may mask a much more serious problem of corruption and petty warlordism among local village bosses.

"I think it�s a very strange phenomenon," Yang Liyu, politics professor at Seton Hall University in the United States, told RFA.

"Strictly speaking, this is actually the practice of vote buying. When you enter the election process, it�s okay to make campaign promises, [but] offering each one 1,800 yuan or 600 yuan after you get elected would be considered illegal both in the United States and in Taiwan."

Yang said the elections in Shanxi and elsewhere in China had already set a bad precedent. "I think the central government in Beijing should be vigilant and take action against the practice," he said.#####


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