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Million-yuan bribes and money-back guarantees … how Chinese lawmakers bought their seats

Business executives seeking elected office in Liaoning province, the epicentre of an unprecedented vote-rigging scandal, were willing to make payments ranging from hundreds of yuan to millions, sources say.

Handing out cash to voters or contributing tens of millions of yuan to powerful political brokers were two ways they sought to game legislative elections.

Following the exposure of the biggest electoral fraud scandal since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the sources said the corruption was so widespread that other legislators found it difficult to refuse bribes.

The scandal has sparked concerns that similar under-the-table deals could be going on elsewhere across China as various local legislatures prepare for elections early next year.

“In the hope of winning a legislative seat, some may offer targeted electors red packets containing cash ranging from 500 to 5,000 yuan [HK$5,800] at banquets they organise,” said a mid-ranking official in Shenyang, the provincial capital. “Others may give huge amounts, ranging … to tens of millions of yuan to brokers, usually political heavyweights such as the heads of regional legislatures, in the expectation of ‘good news’.”

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The official, who declined to be identified, is familiar with the massive electoral fraud in Liaoning three years ago, which led to the expulsion last month of 45 of the province’s 102 National People’s Congress deputies and 454 of the 612 members of the provincial people’s congress.

On the mainland, lawmakers above the township and county levels are mostly elected by people’s congresses representing the administrative division or divisions immediately below. For example, a majority of NPC deputies are elected by provincial legislators, who in turn are elected by prefectural-level lawmakers.

The official said brokers would usually offer full refunds if the would-be legislator failed to get elected.

But a veteran journalist in Liaoning said one business executive had complained bitterly after not getting a refund following a failed run in 2013.

The official said one of the 454 sacked provincial legislators was a friend who had accepted more than 100,000 yuan in total from numerous red packets handed out at banquets before the 2013 election.

But she had won her seat as a result of her hard work, not bribing others, he said.

Liaoning vote-buying scandal points to rot in China’s system

“The young woman lawmaker was nothing more than a grass-roots worker who had no fortune with which to bribe others for a place in the legislature,” he said. “She’s working as usual these days, after being removed from the provincial lawmaking body and surrendering all the money she took.”

He said accepting bribes before legislative elections had become established practice in Liaoning.

“You are actually breaking the unspoken rules when you refuse to take the gift packs, including red packets and stuff such as tea or valuable items, while others accept them,” he said.

The impact of the Liaoning vote-buying scandal may spread far

Worse still, the official said, some candidates found they had no choice but to bribe others because so many rivals had been bribing their way into legislatures in recent years.

A former provincial lawmaker in Liaoning said paying for a seat had long been common in local elections.

“One has to deal with a lot of ‘troublesome matters’ before landing a seat at the people’s congress,” he said.