Planet China

Democratic deficit

Running a democracy is an expensive business, and all the razzmatazz of a US presidential battle doesn’t come cheap: the 2008 election cost around $3 billion, according to Fortune magazine.

So does China’s one party state save the country money? That’s proving a source of controversy this week. In an appearance on CCTV, a research fellow with China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (see WiC98 for more on this body) made an astounding admission. He said that public funds spent by the government on officials’ cars, eating, drinking and travel abroad, came to Rmb1.9 trillion ($297 billion) a year.

The host of the TV show was so shocked by this figure, that she had to ask “I beg your pardon, how much was it?”

Netizens on Sina Weibo then did the comparison calculation. Annualised over the four year cycle, a US election cost $750 million a year. That meant for the same cost as paying for bureaucrats and their banquets you could hold the equivalent of 390 US presidential elections in China, annually.

And to further rile netizens, news then broke that the tax authorities in Zhejiang had just spent $424,000 on a luxury yacht. The bureaucrats said it would be used for tax collection on the province’s islands, but most internet critics suspected it would be used for rather more sociable activities.


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