Roots of the State: Neighborhood Organization and Social Networks in Beijing and Taipei

By Benjamin L. Read | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
Elections, Bogus and Bona Fide

The previous chapter gave an empirical introduction to the dense networks of institutions that certain states cultivate at the ultra-local level. For a first cut at understanding how they work, our attention naturally turns to the question of who controls these organizations and, in particular, the mechanisms by which leadership is constituted in them. How exactly do specific individuals come into their positions as intermediaries between state and community? To what extent are constituents free to pick leaders of their choice? To what extent do government officials choose them or have influence or veto power over the selection? How competitive and how participatory is the process? The answers to these questions form an essential basis for inquiry into accountability relationships in everyday practice.

Cities in both mainland China and Taiwan regularly hold elections for neighborhood leaders. Elections at this level can be viewed as something of an anomaly, even an oddity, in democratic theory and practice. Local elections in general are typically deemphasized in the study of comparative politics; researchers tend to focus on democracy as a national-level regime type. A consideration of voting in the neighborhood context takes us at least one or two steps below even what is normally studied within the rubric of local politics.

Neighborhood-level elections present challenges on both practical and less tangible levels. In logistical terms they can be labor intensive to organize. In addition, winner-takes-all elections produce decisive results, with one side

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