Changes We Need

Dec 302008

By Liang Jianfeng

“Want to do something for change? Spare a weekend and make some phone calls. Anyone needs a form?” Yelling with smiles, several young men walked rapidly along the queue of supporters before the early voting rally began.

“Vote for Barack Obama and vote NO on 47. It’s time to speak up!” A pretty campus girl in a T-shirt cried out while delivering leaflets in front of the Sturn Hall of the University of Denver.

As we can see, support from new voters played an important role in Barack Obama’s victory. Actually, the devotion and enthusiasm shown by the young American voters was amazing to me. I have never seen this kind of phenomenon in China in any election year before. Compared to their American counterparts, Chinese young voters are always showing indifference to domestic elections. They are quiet and not willing to participate.

I heard of a Chinese young voter’s story before I went to the U.S. to cover the election. Maybe it can somehow explain the nonparticipation of Chinese young voters: It was 2003, the election at the expiration of the term of National People’s Congress members. Xiao Wang was then a university student as well as a registered voter. Wang hesitated when he saw the list of candidates. He didn’t know who he should vote for because these candidates meant nothing but several strangers’ names to him. There was no official introduction, no campaigns, and no media coverage about these candidates. After consideration, Wang decided to do something for himself and wrote the name of the most beautiful girl in his class on the ballot. A couple weeks later, with his little trick being found out, Wang was condemned by his teacher for his silliness.

To my opinion, Wang’s story uncovered two key deficiencies in the Chinese electoral system nowadays that drive young voters away: [lack of] transparency of candidate nomination and [lack of] freedom of choice. These two deficiencies influence not only young voters, but also other Chinese registered voters as a whole. I have to confess that I myself never voted in any kind of election in China accordingly.

In order to bring our voters back and make our elections more efficient, we need changes too.

The writer is vice director of the News Center and director of the International News Sector for New Express Daily in Guangzhou, China.