Thursday, April 17, 2008

Democracy in China only after 2022

Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Peoples' Congress, in his latest article published in the CCP party journal - Jiushi, reiterate that CCP will pursue its unique form of political system with Chinese characteristics. According to Wu, it is not in the interest of China to copy the Western's multi-party system, the doctrine of separation of power and the bi-camera system of legislature.

Seeing this publication in the light of a number of elections held in and around China in the last one months from Korea to Taiwan, from Bhutan to Nepal, one cannot help asking the fundamental question when is democracy going to happen in China. If so, in what form?

Is Hu Jintao capable to introduce any serious intra-party democracy before his term expires?

I will give him a pass and move into the more likely scenario when his successor takes over the charge.

Xi Jinping, the widely acknowledged successor to Hu Jintao, is expected to succeed Hu by the 18th CCP National Peoples Congress in 2012. The conventional wisdom is that Xi will hold two terms before passing on to another by the 20th CCP National Peoples Congress in 2022. The question is whether Xi will promote, at least, intra-party democracy, allowing contest to the Politburo Standing Committee, if not, the Politburo.

Though Xi himself is a princeling, which by the conventional logic, is regarded as a conservative naturally inclined to safeguard the standard bearer's interest. On the other hand, he may have inherited some reformist gene from his late father Xi Zhongxun who was regarded as a liberal in the party. However, being a liberal in the CCP doesn't necessary mean that one is a political liberal. To sum up his late father's credential, the senior Xi was perhaps more of an economic liberal in the mold of Deng Xiaoping rather than Hu Yaobang. Further, there is no traits in Xi junior's earlier career in the provinces to show any sign of holding a liberal view on democracy. Of course, revealing one's view on such a sensitive topic of democracy would have been political suicide. It is therefore wise for any political aspirant to keep his view close to his chest in the present political climate.

Another young member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Li Keqiang, who is tipped to succeed Wen Jiabao as the Premier, had a PHD in law and was reportedly to have quoted the imiment English jurist Lord Denning in his thesis. He is also viewed as being more receptive to modern political values. Having briefly analized Xi and Li's background, it is to be noted that none of them received overseas education or have overseas experience.

I suppose, during Xi's term between 2012-2022, most of the retired political heavyweights like Jiang Zemin, Li Peng would have faded into the history. At the same time, many senior party leaders and technocrats in this period are likely to have received overseas liberal education earlier in the Western countries and more receptive to modern precepts of democracy, the rule of law and etc.

This and the successive generation of party leaders are those who have gone overseas following the economic liberation launched by Deng from the 1980s onwards and the first batch would have attained their political pinancle in the CCP 30 years later from 2010s. The successive overseas trained political leaders and cadres together with the more progressive locally trained colleagues are like to post and publish more and more progressive views post Hu's era.

With the advent of internet and greater economic affluence, it is to be expected that the emerging Chinese middle class, nationalist though they are, loyal to CCP yet they may be, they will definitely be more vocal in seeking for greater accountability on the part of the CCP which is her biggest weakness.

It is simply my speculation that the current CCP leadership had already possessed some kind of road map towards the democratization process for CCP and China. My premise is based on the report that CCP has given the indication that the Chief Executive of HK SAR maybe elected directly in 2017 and the HK legislative council election will also be universally franschised shortly thereafter. If this happen, this will happen during Xi's second term and it will not be too unreasonable to predict that CCP will relax and adopt some form of intra-party democracy between 2017-2022.

It is my honest view that CCP is not willing to relinguish it's hold on power (this would have required an amendment to CCP constitution) and is very likely to run PRC as a single party state at least for another 20 years. I am therefore not keen to speculate on China having a genuine plural democracy.

After all, democracy is just a mean to an end and it happens to be the least bad system of all systems. What matters ultimately are the liberty and welfare of the peoples even if the system has to be one party state. It follows therefore the natural evolution for the CCP is to become more like the PAP of Singapore or the LDP of Japan.

What I am willing to predict at this point is that the successor to Xi would have found the timing and the circumstances, from 2022 onwards, both ripe and mature, to introduce greater political choice and accountability whether via intra-party or what the Chinese calls, extra-party (dang wai) democracy.

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