Emory Report

June 22, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 34

Carter Center Update

Carter Center furthers
village elections in China

A four-person Carter Center delegation will be in China June 21 through July 16 to help establish a data collection system that will improve the government's ability to conduct village elections and standardize election procedures nationwide.

A result of a landmark agreement signed last March between the People's Republic of China and The Carter Center, the project includes a second delegation traveling to China in August, as well as two visits to Atlanta from Chinese leaders, the first scheduled for July 19-23.

"Since 1987 the Organic Law on Village Elections-an outgrowth of reforms by the late Premier Deng Xiaoping-has mandated the basic elements of democratic elections, such as a secret ballot, freedom of choice, a public count and regular elections," said Robert Pastor, director of The Carter Center's China Project. "But no one knows how many villages are following the rules. This new data system will answer that question."

The task of the Carter Center delegation currently in China is to assist the country's Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) with installing the first elements of the data system in nine counties in Fujian, Hunan and Jilin provinces. Village officials will record on standard survey forms election results and their assessments of the process and forward that data to the county level, where it will be entered into computers equipped with specially designed software.

In this initial phase, the MCA will compile data from the three provinces and, eventually, from all 930,000 Chinese villages, permitting officials to determine where elections have been held democratically and competitively, as law requires, and where they have been flawed. The data also will provide a basis for discussion between The Carter Center and the MCA about how the system may be improved. Additionally, The Carter Center hopes to implement an intensive voter education project to help Chinese villagers understand why their ballots count and why they need to vote in private.

A high-level Chinese delegation from the MCA and the three pilot provinces will observe Georgia's primary elections during their visit to Atlanta this July. They will meet with county and state election officials and observe the counting process by state officials and the media. On July 22 these dignitaries will attend a forum at The Carter Center to share feedback about what they learned.

The first large Carter Center delegation to observe Chinese elections was in March 1997 in the Fujian and Hebei provinces, at the invitation of the Chinese government. A second Center delegation returned in March of this year to observe elections in nine villages in Jilin and Liaoning provinces, at which time the data collection project was agreed upon.

"Much remains to be done for village elections in China to become a firm foundation for grassroots democracy," said Pastor, who has led each of the Center's delegations to China. "But we are impressed by the villagers' determination to have free and fair elections and by the government's commitment to improve the process to assure genuine competition."

"We are very excited about the village elections project," President Jimmy Carter said recently. "We hope the cooperation we develop with the Chinese government will permit improvements of the electoral process at the village level and serve as a foundation on which to construct direct elections at higher levels of government in the future."

Ann Carney is assistant director of public information at The Carter Center.

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