Mao Zedong casting his vote.
Mao Zedong casting his vote.

Elections in the People's Republic of China occur under a one-party authoritarian political system controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).[1][2][3][4] Direct elections occur only at the local level, not the national level, with all nominations controlled and vetted by the CCP.[1][5][6][7][8]

The nature of the elections is highly constrained by the CCP's monopoly on power in China, limitations on free speech, and government interference with the elections.[9][10][11] Rory Truex, a researcher of Chinese politics at Princeton University, states that "the CCP tightly controls the nomination and election processes at every level in the people's congress system... the tiered, indirect electoral mechanism in the People's Congress system ensures that deputies at the highest levels face no semblance of electoral accountability to the Chinese citizenry."[6]

The National People's Congress (NPC) is officially China's highest organ of state power, with the Standing Committee being its permanent body. Nominations at all levels are controlled by the CCP, and CCP's supreme position is enshrined in the constitution.[12][13] Additionally, elections are not pluralistic as no opposition is allowed.[12]

Local People's Congresses are directly elected under the control of the CCP. All higher levels of People's Congresses up to the NPC, the national legislature, are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the level immediately below.[14][original research?] Governors, mayors, and heads of counties, districts, townships and towns are in turn elected by the respective local People's Congresses.[15][original research?] Presidents of people's courts and chief procurators of people's procuratorates are elected by the respective local People's Congresses above the county level.[15][note 1]

Electoral system

Direct elections

People's Congresses of cities that are not divided into districts (不设区的市), counties (), city districts (市辖区), towns (), townships (), and lastly ethnic townships (民族乡), are directly elected.[14] Additionally, village () committee members and chairpersons are directly elected.[16][17] Local People's Congresses have the constitutional authority to recall the heads and deputy heads of government at the provincial level and below.[18]

Local People's Congresses

A list of voters posted in a neighbourhood in Shenzhen, Guangdong. April 11, 2014.
A list of voters posted in a neighbourhood in Shenzhen, Guangdong. April 11, 2014.

Under the electoral law of 1 July 1979, nomination of candidates for direct elections (in counties, townships, etc.) can be made by the CCP, the various other political parties, mass organizations, or any voter seconded by at least 10 other voters.[19] The final list of electoral candidates must be worked out through "discussion and consultation" or primary elections,[20] which in practice is conducted by an election committee in consultation with small groups of voters.[19] Election committee members are appointed by the standing committees of the people's congresses at the corresponding level.[19] The process used for competitive races is known as the "three ups and three downs" (三上三下, sān shàng sān xià).[21] According to the Chinese government, the "three ups and three downs" process is supposed to operate as follows:

The number of candidates for a direct election should be 1.3 to 2 times the number of deputies to be elected.[19] Where the people's congresses above the county level elect deputies at the next higher level, the number of candidates should be 1.2 to 1.5 times the number of deputies to be elected.[19] Voting is done by secret ballot, and voters are entitled to recall elections.[23]

Eligible voters, and their electoral districts, are chosen from the family (户籍) or work unit (单位 or dānwèi) registers for rural and urban voters, respectively, which are then submitted to the election committees after cross-examination by electoral district leaders.[24] Electoral districts at the basic level (townships, towns, etc.) are composed of 200–300 voters but sometimes up to 1,000, while larger levels (counties, etc.) are composed of 3,000 to 4,000 voters.[citation needed]

Deputies are elected from either single-member districts or multi-member districts using a modified form of block combined approval voting in which a voter is allowed as many votes as there are seats to be filled (only one option may be selected per candidate), with the option to vote for or against a candidate, or abstain. The maximum number of deputies per district is three, and each district within the same administrative region must have approximately an equal number of people.[19] Candidates must obtain a majority of votes to be elected. If the number of candidates to receive over 50% of the vote is more than the number of deputies to be elected, only those who have obtained the highest vote up to the number of seats available win.[19] A tied vote between candidates is settled with a run-off election. If the number of deputies elected is less than the number of deputies to be elected, a run-off election is held to fill the remaining seat(s).[19] In the run-off election, the candidate(s) who receives the most votes is elected; however, a candidate has to win at least one-third of the votes in the run-off to be elected.[19] Vacancies are filled using by-elections.[19]

Heads of Local People's Governments

Heads of People's Governments are formally elected by the People's Congress of that level pursuant to the Organic Law on Local People's Congresses and Governments,[25] but the heads of township governments have been experimentally elected by the people through various mechanisms.[26] There are several models used:[27]

Village chiefs

After taking power in 1978, Deng Xiaoping experimented with direct democracy at the local level.[28] Villages have been traditionally the lowest level of government in China's complicated hierarchy of governance.[29] Many have criticized the locally elected representatives as serving as "rubber stamps", though during some eras the Communists have flirted with the idea of potentially allowing some competition.[30] In the early 1980s, a few southern villages began implementing "Vote for your Chief" policies, in which free elections are intended to be held for the election of a village chief, who holds a lot of power and influence traditionally in rural society.[31] Many of these multi-candidate elections[32] were successful, involving candidate debates, formal platforms, and the initiation of secret ballot boxes.[33] Initial reforms did not include universal suffrage,[34] however presently, according to the constitution, eligible citizens above age 18 have the right to vote and be elected.[35] Such an election comprises usually no more than 2000 voters, and the first-past-the-post system is used in determining the winner,[citation needed] with no restriction on political affiliation.[36] The elections, held every three years,[37] are always supervised by a higher level of government, usually by a County Government. Part of the reason for these early elections was to shift the responsibility of ensuring good performance and reduced corruption of local leaders from the Chinese bureaucracy to the local villagers.[38]

Under the Organic Law of Village Committees, all of China's approximately 1 million villages are expected to hold competitive, direct elections for sub-governmental village committees. A 1998 revision to the law called for improvements in the nominating process and enhanced transparency in village committee administration.[39] The revised law also explicitly transferred the power to nominate candidates to villagers themselves, as opposed to village groups or CCP branches.[40]

Indirect elections

People's Congresses of provinces (), directly controlled municipalities (直辖市), and cities divided into districts (设区的市) are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the level immediately below.[14]

Local People's Governments

The Local People's Congress at each administrative level—other than the village level in rural areas, which hold direct elections—elects candidates for executive positions at that level of government and the Chairmen/Chairwomen of their regional People's Congress Standing Committees.[citation needed]

National People's Congress

The National People's Congress (NPC) has 2,987 members, elected for five year terms. Deputies are elected (over a three-month period) by the people's congresses of the provinces of China, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the Central Government, special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, and the armed forces which function as at-large electoral districts.[41] Generally, seats are apportioned to each electoral district in proportion to their population, though the system for apportioning seats for Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the People's Liberation Army differ.[41][42] No electoral district may be apportioned fewer than 15 seats in the NPC.[41]

National People's Government

The President and Vice President of China, the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Secretary-General of the Standing Committee of the NPC, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and the President and Chief Justice of the Supreme People's Court are all elected by the NPC on the nomination of the Presidium of the NPC.[43] The Premier is elected by the NPC on the nomination of the President.[43] Other members of the State Council are elected by the NPC on the nomination of the Premier.[43] Other members of the Central Military Commission are elected by the NPC on the nomination of the Chairman of the Central Military Commission.[43]

In the 2008 election for the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, for example, president Hu Jintao, the only candidate, received a majority of approval votes. However, some electors chose to write in other names; the most popular write-in candidate was former premier Zhu Rongji.[citation needed]

Party system

Officially, China is a unitary Marxist–Leninist[44] one-party socialist state under the CCP. There are a small number of independent candidates for People's Congress, particularly in neighborhoods of major cities, who sometimes campaign using Weibo.[45]

Although there is no legal requirement for either membership in or approval by the CCP, in practice the membership of the higher people's congresses and people's governments are largely determined by the Party.[46] Independent candidates are strongly discouraged and face government intervention in their campaigns.[11] In practice, the power of parties other than the CCP is eliminated.[45] Because none of the minor parties have independent bases of support and rely on CCP approval for appointment to positions of power, none have the capacity to serve as a true opposition party. Whereas there are CCP Committees in People's Congresses at all levels, none of the other parties operate any form of party parliamentary groups. In order to represent different segments of the population and bring in technical expertise, the CCP does ensure that a significant minority of people's congress delegates are either minor party members or unaffiliated, and there is tolerance of disagreement and debate in the legislative process where this does not fundamentally challenge the role of the CCP.[citation needed]

CCP regulations require members of the People's Congresses, People's Governments, and People's Courts to implement CCP recommendations (including nominations).[46]

Elected leaders remain subordinate to the corresponding CCP secretary, and most are appointed by higher-level party organizations.[46]


The first electoral law was passed in March 1953, and the second on 1 July 1979.[20] The 1979 law allowed for ordinary voters to nominate candidates, unlike the 1953 law which provided no such mechanism.[20] The 1979 law was revised in 1982, removing the reference to the ability of political parties, mass organizations, and voters to use "various forms of publicity", and instead instructing that the "election committees should introduce the candidates to the voters; the political parties, mass organizations, and voters who recommend the candidates can introduce them at group meetings of the voters".[47] In 1986, the election law was amended to disallow primary elections.[48]

Traditionally, village chiefs were appointed by the township government.[17] The Organic Law of Village Committees was enacted in 1987 and implemented in 1988, allowing for direct election of village chiefs instead.[49]

See also


  1. ^ According to a formal Constitution.



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  15. ^ a b Article 101 of the Constitution of China
  16. ^ Article 111 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China
  17. ^ a b Niou 2011, p. 3.
  18. ^ Article 101 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China
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  23. ^ Chen 1999, p. 66.
  24. ^ Leung 1996, pp. 109–110.
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  44. ^ Lams, Lutgard (9 March 2018). "Examining Strategic Narratives in Chinese Official Discourse under Xi Jinping". Journal of Chinese Political Science. 23 (3): 387–411. doi:10.1007/s11366-018-9529-8. ISSN 1080-6954. S2CID 255163923.
  45. ^ a b LaFraniere, Sharon (October 31, 2011). "In China, Political Outsiders Turn to Microblog Campaigns". The New York Times. Retrieved November 1, 2011. an election that is ostensibly open to all comers, but in fact is stacked in favor of the Communist Party's handpicked candidates.
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  47. ^ Chen 1999, p. 69.
  48. ^ McCormick 1990, p. 142.
  49. ^ Niou 2011, pp. 4–5.