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China’s vote-buying scandal: are laws passed by fraudulently elected legislators still valid?

The Chinese northeast province of ­Liaoning is facing an ­unprecedented legislative crisis in the aftermath of the dismissal of hundreds of lawmakers in a vote-buying scandal, sources say.

The Communist Party’s discipline watchdog in the province is also feeling the squeeze, having to draft in legions of personnel from other agencies to cope with the flood of corruption investigations.

“At least two disciplinary staff from my department have been temporarily transferred to work for them,” a mid-level official in Shenyang said, adding that his office was one of many across the province supplying personnel to help with the probes.

The turmoil follows a special meeting last month of the country’s top legislature at which the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress decided to expel 45 national legislators from Liaoning elected in 2013.

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The committee also announced that 454 of Liaoning’s 612 lawmakers at the provincial level were dismissed for buying their way into the local legislature.

According to Xinhua, NPC Standing Committee chairman Zhang Dejiang told the meeting that the Liaoning electoral fraud “challenged the bottom line of the Chinese political system, and a zero-tolerance ­approach will be taken towards any offences in elections”.

With two-thirds of the provincial lawmakers disqualified and the provincial body rendered ­inoperable without a standing committee quorum, sources said question marks had risen over the validity of laws and regulations enacted by the Liaoning legislature in the last few years.

“Nobody knows how to deal with the laws and regulations enacted by the provincial legislature since early 2013,” a former Liaoning provincial lawmaker said late last month. “The National People’s Congress is handling this hot potato for the time being.”

The source said it was very likely that the central authorities would let the issue go as if it had never happened.

“Handling the case strictly in accordance with the law is the last choice for the central authorities because it is too complicated and has never happened before,” he said.

Peking University law professor Zhang Qianfan said if the lawmakers were unqualified from the start, the laws and regulations they enacted over the past 3½ years should also be revoked.

But the professor also said that in a practical sense, it might not matter who sat in the legislature’s seats.

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“Given that the people’s ­congress is more or less a rubber stamp, the decisions over the years might have turned out to be the same, even if you had swapped the original hundreds of provincial legislators with ­another batch of lawmakers,” Zhang Qianfan said.

“Some decisions may not be made by the legislators themselves. They are only required to give procedural approvals to what is tabled by the Communist Party or the government, which decides things in a real sense.”