BEIJING -- Election observers from the Carter Center in Atlanta broke yesterday from their previous upbeat assessments of local elections in China, issuing a largely negative report on balloting they found riddled with "irregularities in almost all stages."
Despite the drawbacks, observers applauded the enthusiasm of Chinese voters.
And at least some were perplexed that China has maintained this sliver of openness when it is in the midst of a crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the big cities.
These local elections "fell significantly short" of all the benchmarks of democracy, which include offering voters a genuine choice, a transparent nomination process, a secret ballot and a public vote count, the team said in a statement released after a six-day visit to the countryside.
Three earlier Carter Center reports on village elections carried a more positive tone, although they also listed some deficiencies in the Communist Party's decade-long effort in China to bring a semblance of democratic processes to the very lowest grass-roots level.
The observers' report said one positive element is the willingness of the Chinese to let international observers watch the elections and proffer recommendations for improvement.
"It is quite a paradox, between having a crackdown on a small handful of democratic activists, and then pushing these local grass-roots elections," said Merle Goldman, a history professor at Boston University and a scholar of political reform in China.
"It seems to me that they think they can handle the peasants in the countryside much more easily than they can handle a small group of democratic activists," she said of China's top leaders.
"I think they may rue the day they allowed this to happen. Once this [election] process gets under way, it is going to be very difficult to stop."
Pub Date: 1/15/99