China’s first state awards for poverty reduction questioned after ‘abnormalities’ in online public vote

China’s first state awards for poverty reduction has drawn questions after “abnormalities” in online voting were discovered.

The awards will be the first national honoursissued by a cabinet office for poverty reduction, according to an official introduction. The authorities issued a notice about the awards on August 18 asking for candidate submissions, and a review panel of 61 people, who were not identified, was set up on Sept 9 to decide the 60 finalists.

Those competing for the top honour include Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man; Xu Jiayin, also known by his Cantonese name of Hui Ka Yan, another property tycoon who is fighting for control of property developer Vanke; Yang Guoqiang, founder of property developer Country Garden Group; Zhang Jindong, founder of the Suning Commerce Group; along with Communist Party chiefs of villages, local government officials, scientists and even bankers.

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As many as 40 out of the 60 finalists will be winners. Xu, the chairman of Evergrande Group, is a candidate for an award for those “dedicated to poverty alleviation and who have made great poverty-alleviation achievements”, while Wang, the Wanda Group founder, is a candidate for an award for those who “innovated approaches and achieved remarkable outcomes” in reducing poverty.

To encourage public participation, the organisers opened online voting to the public from September 22 through 27. The public votes would count towards 40 per cent of the final scores, with the remaining 60 per cent be decided by the review panel.

However, a glitch seemed to have taken place in the voting process with abnormal voting discovered.

The organisers did not provide details of the abnormalities.

According to initial results, Xu was winning the online vote early this week, with more than 26 million votes by Monday evening, while the candidate with the least votes had just over 7,000.

The other leaders in the online poll include Zhang Youliang, chairman of Shandong Guangyao Glass; Zheng Yuewen, chairman of Create Group; and Tu Pengfei, a professor of traditional Chinese medicine with Peking University.

The National Awards for Poverty Alleviation organisers published a brief statement on the voting website on Sunday afternoon that they had spotted an “abnormal situation” in the votes for some individual candidates and were taking “technical measures” to fix the problem.

It also warned that the organisers would “resolutely correct” any abnormalities and “hold the related people responsible”.

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There is no evidence of any wrongdoing relating to any candidates.

The final winners will be announced by the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, the main organiser of the awards, before October 17, when an awards ceremony will be held.

According to an introduction on Xu’s poverty reduction performance, the property tycoon has promised to invest 3 billion yuan in a poor county in Guizhou for a three-year period and plans to lift 180,000 local residents out of poverty by 2018. The first 1 billion yuan donation was made in January.

Poverty reduction is a key policy aim for Chinese President Xi Jinping and the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China promised to eliminate poverty, defined as an annual per capita income of less than 2,300 yuan, by 2020.