Token vote unnerves China's old guard
Monday 20 March 1995
The final two days of this year's Congress witnessed unprecedented opposition by delegates to proposed government appointments and important new laws. On Saturday, the Central Bank Law (which had taken 16 years to draft) was passed with the support of only 66 per cent of deputies, the lowest level on record for a piece of government-sponsored legislation. Of the 2,678 deputies present, 1,781 voted in favour, 509 voted against, 360 abstained and 28 did not vote. China's first Education Law also encountered significant opposition, with only 74 per cent of delegates in favour.
Such major bills are normally passed with near-unanimous support. The votes were a further loss of face for the top leadership after Friday's show of independent thought when 36 per cent of delegates voted against or abstained in the election of Jiang Chunyun as one of two new vice-prime ministers.
Mr Li, speaking after the votes, tried to put a favourable gloss on the outcome. "Deputies ... offered some criticisms and suggestions," he admitted. "Therefore I believe this session is a fully democratic meeting."
The dissident student leader Wang Dan saw things differently, saying: "We cannot say the votes signify major progress in China's democracy because there was no choice, with only two vice-premiers nominated for two posts."
Western diplomats welcomed the new signs of assertiveness by delegates but cautioned against suggestions that the Congress might soon throw off its image as a rubber-stamp body. "Some delegates are willing to rock the boat; but they too are party bureaucrats, and are not going to risk letting any water in," said one analyst. A more emphatic show of opposition would have been to vote against Mr Li's annual report on the government's work, but in the event this was approved with 97 per cent support.
The past fortnight of meetings had, however, seen delegates engage in a frank debate about the economic and social problems facing China. "They are using the votes to articulate a wider dissatisfaction with the government's handling of certain issues," the diplomat added.
When asked, dissenting delegates had specific reasons for their "no" votes. The Central Bank Law was criticised for not giving enough independence to the People's Bank of China. The Education Law did not commit the government to a minimum level of spending. And Jiang Chunyun's career as the party boss of Shandong province failed to inspire confidence that he was qualified to assume the agriculture portfolio at a time of mounting concern about grain shortages and rural discontent.
For President Jiang Zemin, this year's congress is far from a resounding vote of confidence in his position as the "core" of the new leadership which is supposed to have assumed the reins of power from 90-year-old Deng Xiaoping. The President has succeeded in installing two of his allies as deputy prime ministers, but at the price of discovering that many delegates objected to his choice of candidates.
As for Li Peng, it was back to the bad old ways of centrally planned press conferences on Saturday after the congress closed. This is the Prime Minister's annual opportunity to pit his wits against a roomful of foreign journalists. This year, in marked contrast, the spirit of reform deserted Mr Li. Four reporters - a Japanese, Taiwanese, an American and a mainland Chinese - had been selected to ask agreed questions, to which Mr Li offered bland answers. Only the US correspondent ventured an inquiry about the large number of delegates who had not supported Jiang Chunyun. Mr Li sidestepped the question, saying only that the voting met legal requirements and that Mr Jiang and Wu Bangguo, the other new vice-premier, would both enjoy the full support of the Communist Party and the government. The evening television news subsequently edited out this question.
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Putin critic may have been murdered by Islamic extremists, says president-led committee
Stephen Hawking's wife Jane Wilde on their marriage breakdown: 'The family were left behind'
British are sexually uptight, dirty and drink too much – according to Spanish book
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
White and gold or blue and black – what colour is the dress? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'
£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...
£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...
£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...
£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...