China’s national legislature voted to dismiss 45 of its members on September 13 due to allegations of voter fraud. These legislators were all representatives of China’s northeastern province of Liaoning, which is going through an economic downturn.
Taking advantage of the province’s economic vulnerability, the dismissed lawmakers had bribed their way into the National People’s Congress by buying votes, reported the official press agency Xinhua. The National People’s Congress contains almost 3,000 members and meets for a period of less than two weeks per year.
However, members still wield considerable influence through their responsibilities of ratifying laws and government programs. Usually, members are elected to the legislature by lower-ranking bodies of government, such as provincial congresses.
The dismissals followed quickly on the heels of the announcement of an investigation begun the previous week. The investigation was centered around the former vice head of the Liaoning provincial legislature Zheng Yuzhuo, who was suspected of taking bribes and committing other types of fraud in relation to elections.
State prosecutors have asserted their intention of taking legal action against Zheng Yuzhuo, which will likely result in formal charges and a trial. The scandal is also encircling prominent businessman Wang Wenliang, a billionaire in the construction business that operates out of a strategic port on the border with North Korea.
Mr. Wang is known for using his companies as vehicles for donating to American universities, charities, research institutions and political campaigns, notes the New York Times. Chair of the National People’s Congress, Zhang Dejiang is planning to come down hard on the voting scandal culprits.
The widespread scandal, which has resulted in the dismissal of almost half of a province’s delegation, is unprecedented in the People’s Republic of China. Mr. Dejiang is resolved to show “no mercy.” This legislature has often been criticized because its members are predominantly wealthy Chinese business executives.
Many see the presence of these executives playing an active role in the national government as evidence of attempts at jockeying for political favor with government officials. Zhang Ming, a political scientist at the Renmin University in Bejing, notes, “People within the system can trade interests. Whoever gets elected will have a pass to do so.”
Because this legislature holds little de-facto power, this furthers legitimizes what some claim as only a “club” for the wealthy. Even beyond any possible political advantages that come with being a part of the legislature, holding high office within the Communist Party is a source of pride and prestige.
In recent years especially, there is an increasing trend of the prevalence of wealthy individuals in the National People’s Congress. This past year alone, of the 1,271 wealthiest people in China, a record 203 either served in the legislature or acted as advisors to the National People’s Congress.
That means one in seven of China’s wealthiest individuals were actively involved in the government this past year. Many of the delegates who were dismissed following the exposure of the voting fraud scandal fit into this mold of a wealthy businessman that has become so predominant in the Congress.
Most of those expelled were executivs of private business or leaders of state-owned companies. However, the harsh dismissal will not likely change the character of the National People’s Congress any time in the near future.
This scandal has been brewing for five years, according to the New York Times, and may include hundreds of lawmakers, hinted Caixin in a recently deleted post.