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Today in CPC History

Communist reform broadens democracy
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With his promise to quadruple the local GDP within three years, Chen Guohua won a landslide victory when competing for communist party chief of Longxing Township in the landlocked Chongqing Municipality.

In his five-year tenure, Chen has to make genuine efforts to achieve his highly-set economic targets, as the same people who voted for Chen would review his performance every year, and one third non-confidence votes from the total 900 Party members in Longxing may immediately remove him from the seat.

Longxing is among the 200 townships in Chongqing, Sichuan and Hubei where direct elections for communist party chiefs are experimentally organized.

Multiple candidates and contested campaigns in direct elections have already been tried for over 90 percent of village committees across the country.

Turning 86 years old and having ruled China for 58 years, the Communist Party of China (CPC) is moving step by step to further political reform. At the 17th CPC National Congress that opened on Monday, Chinese leader Hu Jintao vowed in his first political report to "deepen political restructuring".

He acknowledged, however, the reform should go in a "correct political orientation" and under the leadership of the CPC, echoing his speech at Yale when visiting the United States in April 2006 that China would not embrace Western-style democracy although it is open to any tested experience buttressing democracy.

Hu's prudence has been endorsed by the largest rally in the CPC history. Delegates to the Party congress said the CPC's leadership, people's participation in political affairs as the country's masters and the rule of law are three footstones for "socialist democracy".

Yu Keping, deputy chief of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, praised democracy as "the least defective" among all political institutions created and adopted by human beings.

"Comparatively, democracy is the best one in the human history, Yu said in an article queerly titled "Democracy Is A Lovely Thing", which was published early this year in the Study Times, a newspaper sponsored by the CPC Central Committee's Party School.

However, timing of pushing democracy and institutional arrangements must be carefully chosen, said the 48-year-old Yu, who are visiting professor to both Duke University, the United States and Free University of Berlin, Germany.

"It requires wisdom of both politicians and common people to gain the biggest benefit from democracy at the lowest political and social costs," Yu said.

Prof. Yang Guangbin, director of the Comparative Politics Institute at the Renmin University of China, said, "Every country has its uniqueness to develop democracy based on their own history, culture and real conditions."

"It's quite harmful to oversimplify unique processes of different democracies to certain modes," Yang said. "Even Western democracies have survived agonizing processes."

And Yang said he believes a Chinese-style democracy is emerging.

The discussions in the Party School and other think tanks on how the CPC can expand democracy are backed by central authorities.

In the process of deepening political restructuring, the CPC also tries to develop itself to a cover-all political organization, by diversifying the Party membership.

The Party amended its Constitution in 2002, opening its door to private businessmen, who used to be regarded as symbol of capitalism and excluded from the vanguard team of the Chinese working class.

Improving "intra-Party democracy" is the ultimate approach to developing people's democracy and promoting social harmony, said Tian Peiyan, a senior theorist at the CPC Central Committee Policy Research Office.

"Intra-Party democracy" is largely realized by expansion of Party members' rights, more open election and a fair cadre nomination mechanism.

As one remarkable signal, the loss margin in the election of delegates to the 17th CPC National Congress was raised to 15 percent from 10 percent five years ago.

At lower levels, the electoral margin quota for provincial Party congresses ranges from 15 percent to 30 percent, almost tripling that of the past.

In his report, Hu also vowed the Party will intensify its efforts to "prevent arbitrary decision-making by an individual or a minority of people."

Lai Hongyi, lecturer at the University of Nottingham School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, said China's economic success has a lot to do with the ruling party's focus on people's livelihood and its pragmatic pursuit of market reform. "This focus needs to be sustained in the coming decades," Lai said.

Nevertheless, Lai said, with a rising education level of the public and development of mass media, public opinion should be an important reference in policy making.

In order to ensure that officials would heed people's concerns, democracy should be incrementally introduced, Lai said.

Rapid growth is unnecessarily a cure-all, Hu warns the Party of yawning wealth gaps, resources-squandering way of development, injustice and corruption. In addressing those challenges, the 70 million-member political organization needs to recruit outside brains and unite as many forces as possible.

Two non-communists, Wan Gang and Chen Zhu, were promoted to cabinet posts this year to overwatch the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health.

Wan is an auto technologist who had worked for Audi for a decade and France-educated hematologist Chen is a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Their landmark appointments were the first to non-communists in nearly 30 decades, but will never be the last as the ruling party has pledged to recruit more non-communists for high governmental positions.

In the words of Prof. David Shambaugh, founding director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University and nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, the CPC's political reform is to "enliven the Chinese Communist Party from the bottom up, giving fuller scope to cadres to exchange views and provide input to policy deliberations rather than just implementing and rubber- stamping decisions made at high levels."

"The goal is to create a dynamic party apparatus, rather than an ossified and inflexible one," Shambaugh said.

(Xinhua News Agency October 18, 2007)

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