Netizens asked to vote yes or forget it

By Hu Meidong and Peng Yining (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-22 08:05
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XIAMEN, Fujian Netizens have been forced to say they were satisfied with at least half of the government departments in Putian city, in East China's Fujian province, or have their voting rights canceled.

The government of Putian launched an online poll which ran from Dec 1 to Monday to find out whether the public was satisfied with its 79 departments.

But netizens soon found they had to select "satisfied" or "agreeable" for at least half of the departments, because if they voted "dissatisfied" for a majority of the departments, a window would pop up on the official website, saying "Your voting does not meet the requirement".

A micro-blogger wrote about the pop-up window on Monday and the news quickly spread over the Internet. More than 140 news outlets then published the story.

A local official admitted to China Daily that the poll "does have some problems and we are trying to improve it".

The official explained that the "50 percent requirement" is to protect the poll from being abused due to intense competition between departments. In earlier polls, some departments had organized staff members to vote "dissatisfied" about all the other departments.

"But our original intention of canvassing public opinion was good. We just need to find a better way to do it and we are exploring that," the official said, adding that the poll result had not come out.

This is not the first case of governments launching questionable online polls.

In November 2010, the government of Yongji county in Northeast China's Jilin province only provided two options "satisfied" and "very satisfied" in an online poll.

Although a local official later explained that the options had been a practical joke perpetrated by hackers, the poll still upset thousands of netizens who dubbed it the "poll of absolutely satisfied".

According to a report released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in 2009, nearly half of all governmental websites in 43 major cities in China were functioning poorly.

The report found some websites do not update information, or only provide information if people register personal details and explain why they want the information and what they intend to do with it.

"Some government online satisfaction polls lack integrity. They are supposed to be used to collect diverse public opinions and improve the standard of government work instead of gaining praise by rigging the process," said Lu Yanbin, a researcher for CASS's Institute of Law and the lead writer of the 2009 report.

"Actually the riggers do nothing but disappoint the public."

He said governments should allow people to choose what information they want and should provide enough details, including work plans and reports, which the public can refer to.

"The point is the government should accept criticism with an open mind," said Lu.

China Daily

(China Daily 12/22/2010 page4)