The nature of the Chinese president is different from the president in democracies. Many experts argue that the Presidential position in China is largely ornamental with no real decision making power. In World Constitution - A Comparative Study: Political Science Vishnoo Bhagwan and Vidya Bhushan argues, A critical analysis of the functions of the President reveals that he is only a glamorous head of State. He does not make any decision on his own.1 Even though the President of China does not wield a lot of functional power the position is still a position of prestige. As a result it is important to look at how the President is elected. In this paper the process by which the President of China is elected will be explored. It will be argued that the President of China is not elected in a democratic manner. Instead the President is elected through an indirect election in which the National People’s Congress(NPC) elects the President. This process appears to be designed to maintain the monopoly of power the NPC currently enjoys.
Elections in China Elections in China are very complicated. There is no single election system in China. Instead there appear to be a range of election processes. In “Assessing China’s Political Development” Cheng Li explains that China uses a combination of direct and indirect elections. Direct elections are used to elect village heads and to fill seats in the local people’s congresses at the township and county level. Indirect elections are used to select members of the people’s congresses at the city level or higher as well as governmental leaders above the city level. Indirect elections are also used to fill openings in the party.2 What is important to realize is that although there are direct elections in China they are only used for lower level positions. The higher level positions are all chosen through indirect elections. This means that the majority of the people have no say in who their higher level political leaders will be. There are suggestions that the mixed election system in China is used by the NPC to select members. This can be seen in the four stage election process. According to Kevin J. O’Brien in Reform Without Liberalization that the Constitutional Drafting Committee set up a four state election process. In this process the first level involves direct elections for local representatives. In the second level these representatives elect a county level representative. The third stage involves the county level representatives than elect provincial level congresses. The provincial level congress then elects the NPC.3
In effect the NPC made sure that the constitution of China only allowed direct elections for lower offices. These lower offices are then used as a recruitment ground for higher levels of government and ultimately the NPC. Many researchers have noted how the NPC has created this election process to maintain their monopoly on power. They have no interest in having direct elections at higher levels of government. They justify their rejection of electoral reform by arguing that the people are not ready or incapable of making informed political decisions. O’Brien notes, In 1953, Deng Xiaoping explained that so long as most voters were largely unfamiliar with national policies and the names of state leaders, indirect elections would be necessary. Other commentators, then and more recently, noted high level of illiteracy, low mass political consciousness and cultural level, and large areas where communications and travel were still difficult.4 The fact that the NPC felt the need to justify the limitations on direct elections in this way is important. It suggests that the NPC wanted to maintain control of political power in China so they needed to make it appear that the people are incapable to make political decisions. In this way they can ensure that higher offices are elected