Chinese city dismisses lawmakers over vote fraud

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BEIJING (AP) - A city in southern China has dismissed most members of its legislature after they were found to have taken millions of dollars in bribes in a massive election fraud, a Communist Party-run newspaper reported Saturday.

The scandal implicated 518 lawmakers in the city of Hengyang's 529-member legislature, said the Hunan Daily, a newspaper run by the Hunan provincial Communist Party committee.

The Hengyang People's Congress had convened earlier this year to pick 76 delegates to represent the city in the provincial people's congress in accordance with Chinese election law.

Provincial authorities began to receive complaints of vote buying in February and a special team was set up to investigate the allegations, the Hunan Daily said.

It said that after 518 Hengyang lawmakers and 68 staff members were found to have accepted bribes, 512 lawmakers were dismissed. The other six had already quit. The city also dismissed three other lawmakers who did not take money but were severely negligent with work duties, the report said.

Provincial authorities disqualified 56 delegates from Hengyang who were found to have paid more than $18 million in bribes to gain entry to the provincial body.

People's congresses at all levels of China are essentially rubber-stamping bodies that sanction decisions by the ruling Communist Party, but a seat on any people's congress is still highly coveted, because it provides status, networking opportunities and closeness to power.

Candidates are always carefully vetted, but efforts to improve democracy have required the number of candidates to 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 the public revelation of the pervasive fraud as seen in Hengyang is rare.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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