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Shenzhen drops a hint on political reform
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Shenzhen, China's first Special Economic Zone, and the first Chinese city to implement a policy of reform and opening up, recently published two guideline documents indicating a shift towards reform of the political system. On May 22, the Shenzhen city government website published a draft document outlining a 19-point reform program for Shenzhen. The first 8 points focused on political, governmental and administrative reforms and the remaining 11 points dealt with the economy, society, education, health, and culture. The points dealing with intra-Party democracy, grassroots democracy and reform of the election mechanism attracted the most attention.

On June 7, the Shenzhen Municipal Party Committee adopted a resolution on adhering to reform and opening up. Provisions regarding the development of socialist democratic politics and the promotion of reform of the political system were included in the resolution, including reform of the mechanisms for appointing cadres and making key policy decisions.

According to Caijing magazine, Shenzhen's recent proposals have raised extremely sensitive questions of political reform. The program is still in draft form and it is hard to imagine it will be implemented in the near future. Sources told Caijing that when the proposals were made public, the Shenzhen Municipal Party Committee and municipal government came under pressure. Several Party leaders from other provinces and cities publicly expressed their reservations about the Shenzhen proposals.

Shenzhen's reform program: the 19 points

The draft of Shenzhen's reform program (also called the 19 points) focuses on democratic politics and service-oriented government, and presents 19 different systemic reform proposals, covering issues like the election of NPC Deputies, selection and appointment of cadres, inner-Party democracy, reform of the judicial system and anti-corruption measures. The proposals regarding the election of NPC Deputies and the selection of cadres have received particular attention.

"It is the first time democratic politics has been given priority, and the first attempt to formulate a systematic reform of the national political structure", Huang Weiping, director of the Contemporary Chinese Politics Research Institute in Shenzhen University, told Caijing. "Since 2001, Shenzhen has carried out reforms almost every year, but mostly related to economic and administrative issues."

The inner-Party democracy proposals call for "a fixed-term Party congress system at the district level; a tenure system for the deputies of Party congresses, competitive inner-Party elections, and gradual moves to direct election of Party leaders."

Regarding grassroots democratic elections, the Reform proposes "direct elections to select partial district-level People's Congress deputies in order to strengthen the representation of the public in the legislative body."

On anti-corruption measures, the reform proposes using Hong Kong's ICAC (Independent Commission against Corruption) as a model to create a working agency and an operating model for anti-corruption work in Shenzhen. It also calls for effective mechanisms to allow media supervision of the government and ensure the rights and autonomy of the media's rights.

Huang Weiping Said, "Several provinces and cities have already implemented similar reforms, but Shenzhen is the first city to put forward systematic reform proposals with a roadmap and schedule."

The reform proposals were discussed for seven months before being made public. In March this year, more than 20 political advisers from Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Beijing and Chongqing submitted a joint proposal, calling on the central government to authorize special economic zones to play a key role in a new round of reform, and especially to authorize Shenzhen to reform its administrative and social management systems.

On March 30, Wang Yang, the newly-appointed Guangdong provincial Party secretary, while on a fact-finding visit to Shenzhen, pressed the Shenzhen government to carry forward the spirit of reform and build a model city based on socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Impetus and opportunity

At a theoretical level, consensus on the necessity of political reform has already been reached. But there is no consensus on how and when to implement reforms. According to a Shenzhen scholar, since reform and opening up was implemented, local forces and individual interests have became serious obstacles to the process of deepening reform.

A Shenzhen official told Caijing that most of his colleagues lacked interest in political reform. "The Chinese political environment is controlled by officials and officials are interested in promotion above all else," He said. "In Shenzhen, officials are promoted if they develop the local economy. Proposing political reform is a risky business with no certain benefits." Wang Yang has proposed broadening the appraisal system for officials to include about one hundred indicators, breaking the "GDP-only" standard. Officials should be judged not just on economic development, but also on social development, people's standard of living, and the environment. The economic development factor should not count for more than about 30 percent.

The gap between theory and practice

Political reform in Shenzhen is still in its early stages. The reform program is very tentative. Several of those involved in drawing it up told Caijing, "We wanted a model that was innovative, but not too far from tradition. It was deliberately designed that way."

Shenzhen's reform program indicates that the city's leadership has a clear understanding of the obstacles to reform and problems existing in the political system. At the 17th Party Congress, the slogan "Put the people in command" was raised but without any indication of how to put it into practice. Huang Weiping told Caijing that the proposals to introduce competitive inner-Party elections and gradually extend the direct election of Party leaders were very significant.

The points in the program relate to social organizations are very pertinent. Wang Yan, a researcher at the Institute of Political Science in Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told Caijing, "Some deputies to the National People's Congress earlier this year submitted a proposal to revise the rules for the registration of social organizations, which is a move in the direction of democratic politics."

Ma Jingren from Shenzhen University said that democratic politics is the key to moving the reform process forward. "If we allow citizens to participate in political management, we can push the reform process onto the next stage."

"This round of political reform in Shenzhen is still on the drawing board. It is a long way from implementation," a local official told Caijing. Le Zheng, the director of Shenzhen Academy of Social Sciences, agreed. "Now is not the ideal time to carry out political reform," he said. "I doubt there will be any big moves within the year."

Several interviewees said the fate of Shenzhen's political reforms depended on the attitudes of the Guangdong provincial government and the central government.

(China.org.cn by Ma Yujia, July 4, 2008)

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