Global Connections Edition
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Labor Article

Political Participation

Many expert observers acknowledge that today’s China is essentially “Communist” only in its from of government in which the state operates under a one-party system — the Chinese Communist Party. A one-party state notwithstanding, the Chinese government is not a monolithic whole, but has within it a mix of conservatives, moderates, and progressives. However, their differences are usually over emphasis and timing rather than over principle, direction or ideology. [1]

Although the Chinese do not have multi-party elections, there has been governance reform, vis-à-vis direct elections at the local village level, with the potential for such reform to move up to the town, county, and provincial levels. In mid-2008, the Communist Party of the booming metropolis of Shenzhen is drafting a 19-point political reform plan that would include direct democratic elections for their parliament and mayor. [2]

Intra-party Democracy: In different parts of the country at any given time at the grassroots level, there may also be official selection contests for local Communist Party posts whereby candidates have to pass a series of nominating contests and televised speeches and debates to be selected.[3] Although not quite direct elections in themselves, these processes of transparency, public participation and competition are part of the Communist Party’s attempts, set forth in the 17th Party Congress in October 2007, to expand intra-Party democracy.[4] These processes can only lay the groundwork for greater political participation in the future. China observers note that the Chinese leadership is aware that at some point, the freedom of people to choose their rulers is inevitable as China’s future as a modern developed society depends on it.[5] President Hu Jintao himself acknowledged the “growing enthusiasm of the people for participation in political affairs” in the 17th Party Congress,[6] but such reform requires time to achieve.

Party Politics: In the meantime, however, it is worth noting that China’s top leaders have, in recent years, been selected based on their accomplishments and performance on the job, and come to their positions of leadership after having undergone years of training by being dispatched to administer different provinces throughout the country. As a deviation from the usual practice of designating an heir apparent to succeed the Party Secretary (Hu Jintao), two names were floated in the 17th Party Congress — Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang — to succeed Hu Jintao in 2012, leading some observers to wonder if this nod to having more democratic choice in leadership selection.[7] It is also worth noting that China’s top leaders in the Party and the government are all subject to term limits (two five-year terms), and a mandatory retirement age of 68 for Politburo members. [8]

1 Cheng Li, “China’s Political Succession: Four Myths in the U.S.” International Relations Center, Foreign Policy in Focus, April 2, 2003, http://www.fpif.org/commentary/0105chinamyths.html (accessed 7/25/08).

2 Ma Yujia, “Shenzhen drops a hint on political reform,” China.org.cn. July 4, 2008, http://www.china.org.cn/government/local_governments/2008-07/04/content_15955536.htm (accessed 7/25/08).

3 “Official selection contests aired to public in SW China city,” Xinhuanet.com, July 18, 2008, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-07/18/content_8570441.htm (accesed 7/23/08).

4 Kerry Dumbaugh, “China’s 17th Communist Party Congress, 2007: Leadership and Policy Implications,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, December 5, 2007, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL30946.pdf (accessed 7/25/08).

5 Kishore Mahbubani, The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power To The East (New York: PublicAffairs™, 2008), 144.

6 Dumbaugh, “China’s 17th Communist Party Congress.”

7 Dumbaugh, “China’s 17th Communist Party Congress.”

8 Dumbaugh, “China’s 17th Communist Party Congress.”