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China fires senior official in vote-buying scandal

BEIJING--A senior Chinese provincial official has been fired and expelled from the Communist Party for negligence in a massive vote-buying scandal, the party's internal anti-graft arm said Thursday.

The party's discipline commission said that Tong Mingqian failed to take “timely and effective measures” in the central city of Hengyang to address reports of bribery in the city legislature's selection of provincial representatives.

The scandal “inflicts great losses to the interests of the party, country and the people, and leaves a harmful political and social impact,” the commission said in an announcement on its website. It said Tong's case had been handed over to judicial authorities.

The scandal in Hengyang city was reported Dec. 28 when the city dismissed most members of its legislature after they were found to have taken millions of dollars in bribes.

At the time of his dismissal, Tong was vice-chairman of an advisory body to Hunan province's legislature. He was being punished for his alleged role in the scandal when he was Hengyang city's party boss and oversaw the appointment of municipal representatives to the Hunan provincial legislative body, which city lawmakers decide by voting.

Provincial authorities disqualified 56 delegates from Hengyang who were found to have paid more than US$18 million in bribes to gain entry to the provincial body. Authorities in Hengyang dismissed 512 lawmakers for accepting bribes, while another six quit, making up the bulk of its 529-member legislature, state media said.

Chinese legislative bodies at all levels are essentially bodies that rubber-stamp decisions by the party, but a seat on such a body is highly coveted because it provides status, networking opportunities and proximity to power.

Candidates for seats on these bodies are always carefully vetted and usually backed by the party. But in an effort to make the process more competitive, the number of candidates must usually exceed the number of seats to be filled. In the case of Hengyang, the municipal body was to pick 76 delegates out of a panel of 93 candidates.

The competition, coupled with a ban on canvassing, has bred an underground market of vote buying, but it is unusual that such pervasive fraud has been made public.

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