BEIJING -- Hundreds of representatives in the legislature of China's Liaoning Province have been ousted for election fraud, a sign that President Xi Jinping is widening an anti-corruption campaign limited to top-level officials until now.
The people's assembly of the northeastern province decided Saturday to expel 454 of the roughly 600 legislators for involvement in a bribery and vote-buying scandal that has already disqualified 45 members of the National People's Congress, the party mouthpiece People's Daily reported online.
Delegates to the National People's Congress are not elected directly by the people, but rather by provincial assemblies. A Congress representative from Liaoning whose election was nullified had allegedly paid 4 million yuan (around $600,000) in bribes to win the seat, according to reports.
The dismissal of so many members of the legislature in a single province is likely to affect administrative functions. The National People's Congress and several layers of municipal-level legislatures below it ostensibly have legislative power, but in reality the Communist Party holds sway. These municipal-level legislatures are thus often filled with local business moguls. The Xi government is apparently taking aim at corruption at this level.
Liaoning has been rocked by corruption scandals of late. The party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection sent an investigative team to the province this year, following a dispatch in 2014. Former Liaoning provincial Communist Party chief Wang Min was kicked out of the party in August.
Some see the purge as part of political jostling between Xi and Premier Li Keqiang ahead of the massive leadership reshuffling to come during the party's 19th National Congress, slated for autumn of next year. Li was party secretary of Liaoning from 2004 and 2007, and several current and former senior officials of the province who had worked under Li have been ensnared in Xi's anti-corruption campaign.
Dependent on heavy industry, Liaoning was the only one of the nation's 31 provinces, provincial-level municipalities and autonomous regions to log negative growth in the January-June half. With Xi and Li said to be at odds over economic policy, the Liaoning scandal could turn into a proxy battle for the power struggle within the Chinese leadership.