Chinese Crave Elections

Posted in China | 14-May-08 | Author: Judith Apter Klinghoffer| Source: History News Network

A global public opinion poll reveals that the Chinese are much less sanguine about their current lack of political rights than experts would have us believe. Given the totalitarian nature of the regime, it is surprising to read that the vast majority of the Chinese believe that governments should be elected.

When asked whether "as a general rule, government leaders should be selected through elections in which all citizens can vote" or that "they should be selected some other way?" 82% chose elections. Of course, the wording (as a general rule) provided them with the needed cover.

given recent articles about the growth of virulent Chinese nationalism, it is just as surprising to discover how much they approve of "foreign interference" in the national affairs. When asked how much the government should take into account world public opinion when making foreign policy decisions, the Chinese give a response of 7.8 on a 0-10 scale (with 10 being “a great deal”). This compares favorably to the global average which is 7.1 not to mention the 5.8 Indian one or the American and Russian 6.6 ones. In other words, the Chinese Communist party has probably manufactured the nationalistic expressions just as other totalitarian parties have always done. It scares foreigners and domestic critics alike.

The Chinese are much more circumspect when asked directly about their government's management of the country. A full 83% of the Chinese claim to trust their government's actions and 65%(!) even agree with the notion that their government puts the interests of the people ahead of those of "big interests." The Chinese knows this is a touchy subject and the price of criticism may be high. Just read about the fate of the family of the politically incorrect Duke University student whose parents had to go into hiding.

Does any of this mean that another Chinese revolution is imminent? Not necessarily. It does mean that when 82% of them agree that the will of the people should be the basis for the authority of government, they mean business. The Chinese are sure to tolerate their "illegitimate" government so long as development continues apace and most of them experience it's benefits. But an economic turn down would be most dangerous.

Hence, the government would be well advised to embark on controlled experiments with "special political zones" where official are elected. Occasional municipal elections would not suffice for long. The Chinese people, like the rest of their brethren around the world believe they are entitled to have a say in they way their country is to be run. The status quo may not be as secure as their autocrats hope.