A tip of the hat to Ting Shi of South China Morning Post for pulling off the extraordinary and totally unheralded task of reporting leaked votes from Sunday’s polling for State Council [subscriber only]. No small trick. Of course, the vote was not competitive in the typical sense: instead of indicating a preference for whom they supported, the 2235 delegates to the recently concluded party congress were instead given the opportunity to cast a negative vote for whom they opposed. There were 221 candidates for 204 seats, and those with the least opposition earned seats on the Council.
Some in the foreign media suggest that the 7.6% electoral failure rate to be something short of democracy. Maybe, maybe not. It is worth remembering, however (especially if you are a US member of the foreign media) that the electoral failure rate for election to the US House of Representatives – with a handful of exceptions – has been even smaller for the better part of four decades. And those races are competitive in the traditional sense.
Anyway. The State Council results, as printed in the SCMP, are interesting, and because I haven’t seen them reprinted anywhere else, I’m going to reprint a few and then offer some very speculative speculation … after the jump.
First, it seems that even the most unpopular candidates are only able to muster a handful of opposition votes. For example:
Jia Qinglin, another eye-catcher despite being for all the wrong reasons, scrambled to get 2,169 votes [out of 2235] – a conspicuously low number in yesterday’s high voting. “He got 66 negative votes, and this was really bad,” said a delegate who kept notes on the voting result of every new Central Committee member.
Mr Jia, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, survived the notorious Yuanhua smuggling case in Fujian – thanks to former party chief Jiang Zemin’s vigorous protection – but his appeal within the party took a fatal beating.
In other words, despite being connected to a notorious smuggling scandal, fully 97% of the delegates to the Party Congress believe that Jia Qinglin still belongs on the State Council.
Now, as a veteran of American political conventions (alternate delegate at the tender age of 17), I’ve spent my own share of time staring at ballots filled with dozens upon dozens of names that I’ve never seen – and voted on them. In those cases, I’d ask a trusted party leader or fellow delegate to offer recommendations; if I couldn’t muster a good answer, I’d usually leave a race un-voted. So I have some sympathy for the CPC delegate from Godforsaken County in Godforsaken Province who has never heard of the sixth Mr. Wang in ten names on a ballot that contains several dozen more. That said, one would think that a notorious figure like Jia Qinglin would have mustered a little more opposition.
Which brings me to the votes for Xi Jinping, the communist party secretary in Shanghai, and Li Keqiang, his counterpart in Liaoning Province, both of whom have been quietly competing to succeed Hu Jintao in 2012. Presumably, this race is the main card, the main event, and the 2235 delegates were not only well-versed in the two gentlemen, but interested in their respective jockeying for position. So what was the tally?
Li: 2226 votes Xi: 2227 votes
Li: 9 haters Xi: 8 haters
What does all of this mean? My gut tells me that most delegates had no intention of risking a ‘no’ vote on either of those characters, for fear that someone would find out and there goes the neighborhood. There’s only a handful of players in China who can afford to offend the two successor candidates … and they sit on the Politburo, or have retired from it, or have some kind of relation to it that insulates them from retaliation (say, members of the Deng family). And if I had to guess, I’d say that’s maybe 20 people in China — which roughly correlates with the number of people with the gumption to vote ‘no’ on Li or Xi.