"What will you do for us if you are elected?" Experimentally, in a limited way, China's voters are being treated to the heady prospect of multiple choices and of holding their representatives accountable once they are elected.
Ultimate power remains securely in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, whether at national or at grass-roots level.
But to give ordinary citizens more of a sense of participation, elections to county and district assemblies are to be held directly -- and the number of candidates must be greater than the number of seats available.
The shanghai newspaper Wen Hui Bao recently gave two examples from elections held in December last year and January this year, one in Shanghai county, the other in Xuhui district of Shanghai city. In Shanghai county, Communist Youth League member Xu Zhenghu boldly prposed himself as a candidate, promising to be a faithful servant of the public, to fight for the four modernizations (industry , agriculture, defense, science and technology), to strengthen links with the people once he was elected, and to hold regular meetings with them.
In Xuhui district, Zhang Jiongjiong, a second-year student in Shanghai college of oriental medicine, was put foward as a candidate by his fellow students, who makeu up one-third of the constituency's 3,000-man electorate.
The constituency was to elect three members of the district assembly, and five candidates, including Mr. zhang, presented themselves. Both Mr. Xu and Mr. Zhang received wide publicity in their respective constituencies, and both were elected to their local assemblies.
Reporting one of Mr. Zhang's electoral meetings, the newspaper said it was attended by 200 voters, and that he was asked various questions, from "What will you do for us?" to "What do you think of the other candidates?"
On the first question, Mr. Zhang, described as a model student, said that he strongly advocated improving teaching methods and the working and living conditions of teachers and staff. He would hold regular meetings with the voters to report on the work being done and to hear the voice of the masses.
On the second question, Mr. Zhang said modestly that they were all his seniors who had made great contributions to the revolution and to education, that he intended to vote for them and hoped his audience would do likewise.
This may not be election tactics Peoria-style, but it appar ently worked wonders for Mr. Zhang: He topped the poll and edged out two of his four rivals.
Wen Hui Bao does not go into similar detail in the case of Mr. Xu but concentrates on what he did after being elected.He carried out his promise to meet with the voters, and quickly discovered that the two most urgent demands were for the library of the local normal school (where Mr. Xu was enrolled) to allow students to take books out, and for something to be done about a foul-smelling pond east of the school.
The party committee of the school quickly held a meeting and took steps to solve both problems. This, pleased voters said, "is the result of truly democratic elections."
Small as these examples are, they are being presented with the apparent hope that they will be catching. Other examples surface periodically of young men who have done well after being elected to responsible positions inside factories , or who have volunteered to run production brigades in agricultural communes on the basis of definite promises regarding distribution of crops and yearned income, and who have then made good on these promises.
In huge China, even a flock of swallows will not suffice to announce summer. But if the idea of direct, democratic elections is to take root in this country, it may well have to come through the multiplication of thousands of examples such as these.