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Communal elections lure urban residents
( 2003-10-22 23:32) (Xinhua)

In China, urbanites normally have the upper hand over their rural compatriots in almost everything. But in one thing, at least, they have to bow to the more- experienced villagers -- elections.

While village elections have been popular in the countryside over the past two decades, communal elections are still something new to the majority of residents in Chinese cities.

After a few years of small-scale experiments in communal elections, this year China is determined to make greater strides in promoting grass-roots democracy, by increasing the number of pilot provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities to almost 20.

"Sunlit European City" is one of the residential blocks in the New Pudong District of Shanghai, east China, that conducted communal elections this year. Last Saturday, Oct. 18, 551 of the 591 residents took part in the election of their community committee.

"It was a surprise to us that so many people joined in the elections," said Cao Yujie, a female member of the 11-member committee responsible for organizing the elections in "Sunlit European City".

Earlier, the election committee feared fewer people would vote, since people are so occupied with their personal issues like business, employment and family chores, Cao noted.

The same enthusiasm is being experienced by residents in other pilot cities like Beijing, Tianjin, Nanjing, Wuhan, Harbin, Jinan, Changsha, Yinchuan and Ningbo. In the elections of the "Dianliu Residential Block", in Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province, east China, 1,386 of the 1,410 electorates voted for their candidates.

The communal elections have altered the country's decades-old tradition of appointing community leaders by local government. Under the new practice, the community committee will no longer be allowed to be involved in commercial activities, and the government is responsible for covering all the office expenditure and salaries of the community committee.

Thanks to the reform, residents will enjoy greater democracy and better public service from the community committee which now employs more professionals, rather than retired or unemployed people.

To ensure the success of this year's communal elections, the Ministry of Civil Affairs sponsored a national training course on relevant issues in Nanjing City, the capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, and meanwhile, similar training programs were conducted in all the pilot cities.

All those who have lived in a residential block for a period of time, which differs from city to city, are allowed to participate in communal elections, according to the law. This has made it accessible for people of all age groups, transients from other parts of the country, as well as foreigners and compatriots from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.

Many well-educated people and youngsters have joined the competition. Chen Xiang, a graduate from the prestigious Qinghua University in Beijing, has been elected as a deputy head of the community committee in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, in central China.

A foreign national in Shanghai's Pudong and a Taiwan businessman in Tianjin were elected as leaders of their community committee last month, according to local media.

A Chinese-American, who is only known as Mr. Feng, returned to Shanghai recently just for the elections, but to his distress, he had missed the date to register to vote.

"I will come back for the elections three years later," Feng said, referring to the regulation that communal elections are held once every three years.

International organizations have showed their interest in the elections. UNDP sent officials to monitor the elections in Nanjing.

"The efforts by the Chinese government are commendable," the officials said.

Zhang Mingliang, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, recently said that democracy is the soul for community development and autonomy is the orientation for it.

Some Chinese experts pointed out that communities are always the basis for the work of the government and a bridge between the government and the public.

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