Development Drivers and Limitations
Global Development Network series
Edited by Natalia Dinello and Shaoguang Wang
Chapter 10: Grassroots Democracy, Accountability and Income Distribution: Evidence from Rural China
Yan Shen and Yang Yao After the commune system was dissolved in the early 1980s, the state introduced village elections in rural China to enhance village governance. In 1987 the National People’s Congress (NPC) passed a preliminary version of the Organic Law of Village Committee (OLVC), launching a ten-year experiment with village elections. In 1998 the NPC formally passed the final version of the law, and elections quickly spread to the whole country. However, since the first elections began in the mid-1980s, there has been controversy about their impact on daily life in Chinese villages. The elections hardly take place in a friendly institutional environment. Within the village, the authority of the elected village committee is seriously constrained, if not superseded, by the Communist Party committee; outside the village, the township and county governments still maintain a heavy hand in village affairs. As a result, even if the elected village committee is willing to advance the interests of the villagers, it may not be able to do so. On the other hand, the decentralized nature of the elections may make it easier for local elites to capture local politics; in practice, democracy does not necessarily lead to a fairer provision of public goods (Bardhan and Mookherjee 2005). There is evidence that business elites have begun to dominate the local elections in some villages (Liu, Wang and Yao 2001). In addition, lineage influences political alignments in many village elections, and people worry that bias could distort the effects of the election....
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