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September 14, 2009

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Neighborhood democracy hits close to home across Nanjing

THE new Party chief never expected that the election process could be so challenging - even though it was just at neighborhood level.

"My psychology changed a lot through the election," said 42-year-old Chen Ming, one of two candidates to lead his neighborhood committee of Communist Party of China in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province.

Direct elections have been used this year to select 363 neighborhood committees in Nanjing, covering nearly half the city's population.

Chen and his rival candidate, 36-year-old Zhao Zhicun, paid visits to residents to hear about their problems, and held a public debate on voting day.

After questioning the candidates, voters cast their ballots in a box, with Chen winning 147 votes to Zhao's 45.

This time, Chen said, he was elected by ordinary people. "I won't let them down. I must fulfill what I promised during the election.

"In the past, I was passive at work. The work was assigned by superiors and I was answerable only to them," he said.

Hui Yuchun has been a Party member for more than 60 years. He said it was the first time he saw such an election.

"In the past, I didn't care much who would be elected," he said. "But this time we could decide the winner, that's why we cherish our right to vote."

According to a survey by the Nanjing municipal committee of the Communist Party of China, more than 90 percent of Party members cast their ballots in neighborhoods this year. Among the voters, there were elderly people on wheelchairs and businessmen who asked for leave from their companies. Many had discussions with family members before making their choice.

Zhao believed the reason he lost was lack of experience and a poor performance in the debate.

"I'll get better and improve myself," he said. "And I will take part in the election next time."

"The goal of direct elections is to improve intra-Party democracy," said Yang Xuezhong, director of the organization department of the Baixia District Party Committee in Nanjing.

He noted Party committees in neighborhoods are at the grassroots level. "If Party committees at that level are strengthened, the Communist Party of China would gain more support," he said.

Nanjing is a pioneer in direct elections, having introduced them in 2004. Calls have been made to extend the process.


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