Elections in the People's Republic of China

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Elections in the People's Republic of China are based on a hierarchical electoral system, whereby local People's Congresses (人民代表大会) are directly elected, and all higher levels of People's Congresses up to the National People's Congress, the national legislature, are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the level immediately below.[1]

Governors, mayors, and heads of counties, districts, townships and towns are in turn elected by the respective local People's Congresses.[2] Presidents of people's courts and chief procurators of people's procuratorates are elected by the respective local People's Congresses above the county level.[2] The President and the State Council are elected by the National People's Congress.

Electoral system

Direct elections

People's Congresses of cities that are not divided into districts (不设区的市), counties (), city districts (市辖区), towns (), townships (), and lastly ethnic townships (民族乡), are directly elected.[1] Additionally, village () committee members and chairpersons are directly elected.[3][4] Local People's Congresses have the constitutional authority to recall the heads and deputy heads of government at the provincial level and below.[citation needed]

Local People's Congresses

A list of voters posted in a neighbourhood in Shenzhen, Guangdong. April 11, 2014.

Under the electoral law of 1 July 1979, nomination of candidates for direct elections (in counties, townships, etc.) can be made by the Communist Party of China, the various other political parties, mass organizations, or any voter seconded by at least 3 others.[5] The final list of electoral candidates must be worked out through "discussion and consultation" or primary elections,[5] but in practice is determined by the election committee in consultation with small groups of voters, through a process known as the "three ups and three downs" (三上三下, sān shàng sān xià).[6] According to the Chinese government, the "three ups and three downs" process is supposed to operate as follows:

  • the election committee collates all of the nominations, checks them, and publishes the list of nominees and their basic details (first "up"). The published list is given to groups of electors, comprising the voters in each geographical or institutional electorate for discussion (first "down");
  • the views of the groups of electors are conveyed via group representatives at a committee meeting, in order to reduce the number of candidates (second "up"). The views of different elector groups and the discussions at the committee meeting are then conveyed to voters, and their views are sought (second "down"); and
  • the views of the groups of electors are once again collated and reported to the election committee which, by reference to the views of the majority of electors, determine the final list of candidates (third "up"). The list of names and basic details is published by electorate (third "down").[7]

The number of candidates for an election should be 50% to 100% larger than the number of seats, voting is to be done by secret ballot, and voters are theoretically entitled to recall elections.[8] Eligible voters, and their electoral districts, are chosen from the family (户籍) or work unit (单位 or dānwèi) registers for rural and urban voters, respectively, which are then submitted to the election committees after cross-examination by electoral district leaders.[9] Electoral districts at the basic level (townships, towns, etc.) are composed of 200–300 voters but sometimes up to 1000, while larger levels (counties, etc.) are composed of 2000–5000 voters.[10]

Local People's Governments

Heads of People's Governments are formally elected by the People's Congress of that level pursuant to the Organic Law on Local People's Congresses and Governments,[11] but the heads of township governments have been experimentally elected by the people through various mechanisms.[12] There are several models used:[13]

  • direct nomination and election (zhi tui zhi xuan)
  • direction election (zhi xuan)
  • two ballots in three rounds (san lun liang piao zhi)
  • competition based on mass recommendation (min tui jing xuan)
  • nomination and election by the masses ( or hǎi xuǎn; literally "sea election")
  • public recommendation and public election (gong tui gong xuan)
  • vote of confidence (xin ren tou piao)

Village chiefs

Since taking power in 1978, Deng Xiaoping experimented with direct democracy at the local level. Villages have been traditionally the lowest level of government in China's complicated hierarchy of governance. In the early 1980s, a few southern villages began implementing "Vote for your Chief" policies, in which free elections are intended to be held for the election of a village chief, who holds a lot of power and influence traditionally in rural society. Many of these elections were successful, involving candidate debates, formal platforms, and the initiation of secret ballot boxes. The suffrage was universal, with all citizens above age 18 having the right to vote and be elected. Such an election comprises usually over no more than 2000 voters, and the first-past-the-post system is used in determining the winner, with no restriction on political affiliation. The elections, held every three years, are always supervised by a higher level of government, usually by a County Government.

Under the Organic Law of Village Committees, all of China's approximately 1 million villages are expected to hold competitive, direct elections for sub-governmental village committees. A 1998 revision to the law called for improvements in the nominating process and enhanced transparency in village committee administration. The revised law also explicitly transferred the power to nominate candidates to villagers themselves, as opposed to village groups or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) branches. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, as of 2003 the majority of provinces had carried out at least four or five rounds of village elections.

According to BBC News, state media regularly reports on vote buying and corruption during these elections to discredit wider implementation in higher levels of government.[14]

Some townships and urban areas also have experimented with direct elections of local government leaders.

Indirect elections

People's Congresses of provinces (), directly controlled municipalities (直辖市), and cities divided into districts (设区的市) are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the level immediately below.[1]

Local People's Governments

The Local People's Congress at each administrative level—other than the village level in rural areas, which hold direct elections—elects candidates for executive positions at that level of government.

National People's Congress

The National People's Congress (NPC) has 2987 members, elected for five year terms. Deputies are elected (over a three-month period) by the people's congresses of the provinces of China, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the Central Government, special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, and the armed forces. The size of each college of delegates is related to the number of electors in the constituency. 36 deputies are elected in Hong Kong.

National People's Government

The President and Vice President of China, the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Secretary-General of the Standing Committee of the NPC, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and the President of the Supreme People's Court are elected by the NPC on the nomination of the Presidium of the NPC.[15] The Premier is elected by the NPC on the nomination of the President.[15] Other members of the State Council are elected by the NPC on the nomination of the Premier.[15] Other members of the Central Military Commission are elected by the NPC on the nomination of the Chairman of the Central Military Commission.[15]

In the 2008 election for the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, for example, president Hu Jintao, the only candidate, received a majority of approval votes. However, some electors chose to write in other names; the most popular write-in candidate was former premier Zhu Rongji.

For appointed positions requiring the approval of the People's Congress, such as the premier and cabinet ministers, delegates may either approve or disapprove of the appointment. Relevant laws provide that if the single candidate does not receive more than 50% approval, the position is left vacant until the next session of the People's Congress. This rarely happens in practice, and has never happened at the national level.

Party system

Officially, the People's Republic of China is a multi-party socialist state under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. There are a small number of independent candidates for people's congress, particularly in neighborhoods of major cities, who sometimes campaign using weibos posted on the internet.[16][17]

Although there is no legal requirement for either membership in or approval by the Communist Party of China (CPC), in practice the membership of the higher people's congresses and people's governments are largely determined by the Party.[18] Independent candidates are strongly discouraged and face government intervention in their campaigns.[19] In practice, the power of parties other than the Communist Party of China is severely limited.[17] Because none of the minor parties have independent bases of support and rely on Communist Party approval for appointment to positions of power, none have the capacity to serve as a true opposition party. Whereas there are Communist Party Committees in People's Congresses at all levels, none of the other parties operate any form of party parliamentary groups. In order to represent different segments of the population and bring in technical expertise, the CCP does ensure that a significant minority of people's congress delegates are either minor party members or unaffiliated, and there is tolerance of disagreement and debate in the legislative process where this does not fundamentally challenge the role of the Communist Party.

Communist Party regulations require members of the People's Congresses, People's Governments, and People's Courts to implement CPC recommendations (including nominations) pursuant to the CPC Regulations on the Selection and Appointment Work of Cadres of Both CPC and Government Organs.[18] Elected leaders remain subordinate to the corresponding CCP secretary, and most are appointed by higher-level party organizations.[18] Furthermore, while legally responsible for the oversight of the administration, it is difficult for a person in a people's congress without party support to exercise effective control or power over the administration of the executive at a given level.

Electoral history

No parties other than the Communist Party and the eight allied parties were allowed at the elections, which took place from October 2012 to March 2013. The same nine parties are represented at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

e • d Summary of the October 2012–February 2013
National People's Congress
of the People's Republic of China election results
Parties Seats
Communist Party of China (中国共产党) 2,157 [20]
United Front, independents 830
Total 2,987
e • d Summary of the October 2007–February 2008
National People's Congress
of the People's Republic of China election results
Parties Seats
Total 2,987


The first electoral law was passed in March 1953, and the second on 1 July 1979.[5] The 1979 law allowed for ordinary voters to nominate candidates, unlike the 1953 law which provided no such mechanism.[5] The 1979 law was revised in 1982, removing the reference to the ability of political parties, mass organizations, and voters to use "various forms of publicity", and instead instructing that the "election committees should introduce the candidates to the voters; the political parties, mass organizations, and voters who recommend the candidates can introduce them at group meetings of the voters".[21] In 1986, the election law was amended to disallow primary elections.[22]

Traditionally, village chiefs were appointed by the township government.[4] The Organic Law of Village Committees was enacted 1987 and implemented in 1988, allowing for direct election of village chiefs instead.[23]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Article 97 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China
  2. 2.0 2.1 Article 101 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China
  3. Article 111 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China
  4. 4.0 4.1 Niou 2011, p. 3.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Chen 1999, p. 65.
  6. McCormick 1990, p. 141.
  7. “三上三下”协商确定县乡两级人大代表正式候选人的具体做法是什么? (What is the specific procedure for the "three ups and three downs" method for determining through consultation the official candidates for People's Congress Representatives at the county and prefecture level?), Hebei People's Congress, 6 December 2011
  8. Chen 1999, p. 66.
  9. Leung 1996, pp. 109–110.
  10. Leung 1996, p. 109.
  11. Lin 2011, pp. 67–69.
  12. Lin 2011, p. 66.
  13. 林 (Lin), 峰 (Feng) (2011). 郑 (Cheng), 宇硕(Joseph Y. S.) (ed.). Whither China's Democracy: Democratization in China Since the Tiananmen Incident. City University of Hong Kong Press. pp. 65–99. ISBN 978-962-937-181-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> At pp. 77–87.
  14. Hogg, Chris (22 July 2010). "Buying votes in China village polls 'costing more'". BBC News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Lin 2011, pp. 68–69.
  16. "New faces should go back to reality" (Editorial). The Global Times. May 30, 2011. Retrieved November 1, 2011. Just like opposition parties in the West, independent candidates in China represent different opinions on the political scene. Since China's political system is based on the cooperation of multiple parties under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, it would not suit the participation of candidates who choose an opposing attitude toward the current system.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 17.0 17.1 LaFraniere, Sharon (October 31, 2011). "In China, Political Outsiders Turn to Microblog Campaigns". The New York Times. Retrieved November 1, 2011. an election that is ostensibly open to all comers, but in fact is stacked in favor of the Communist Party’s handpicked candidates.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Lin 2011, pp. 72–76. "Regulations on the Selection and Appointment Work of Cadres of Both CPC and Government Organs".

    "These regulations apply to the selection and appointment of cadres to the working departments and/or internal institutes of the Central Committee of the CPC, the NPCSC, the State Council, the National People's Consultative Committee, the Central Disciplinary Committee of the CPC, officials (not including the heads) of the Supreme People's Court, Supreme People's Procuratorate and their internal institutions, officials of local CPC organs, people's congresses, people's governments, political consultative committees, people's courts, people's procuratorates at and above county level, and their internal institutions, as well as officials of the internal institutions of the working organs mentioned above.

    "Reference should be made to these regulations for the selection and appointment of officials to institutions directly under the leadership of the CPC organs an people's governments at and above county level, trade unions, youth leagues of the CPC, women's associations and any other people's organizations.

    "Reference should be made to these regulations for the selection and appointment of officials who are not CPC members.

    "Reference should also be made to these regulations in the selection and appointment of persons to non-leaders' positions above county level (Chuji).

    "When a CPC committee recommends to a people's congress or its standing committee candidates for officials to positions which need to be elected by either a people's congress or its standing committee, it should first introduce its recommendation opinions to the interim CPC organ within the people's congress or the CPC organization of the standing committee of the people's congress. The interim CPC organ, the CPC organization within the standing committee of the people's congress and CPC members of the standing committee and of the people's congress, should seriously implement the recommendation opinions of the CPC committee, take lead in doing things according to law, and correctly perform their obligations."

  19. Sharon LaFraniere (December 4, 2011). "Alarmed by Independent Candidates, Chinese Authorities Crack Down". The New York Times. Retrieved December 5, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. [1].
  21. Chen 1999, p. 69.
  22. McCormick 1990, p. 142.
  23. Niou 2011, pp. 4–5.