Political reform cadres' main aim
Vivien Pik-Kwan Chan
Political reform topped the list of concerns for medium to high-ranking cadres in a study by the Central Party School.
Cadres also suggested that separating party and government functions was the key to effective political reform.
The reform call came ahead of the 16th Party Congress this autumn, when a major reshuffle in the Chinese leadership is expected.
The survey, 'China's Social Situation Evaluation and Forecast', is the fifth annual study of its kind by the school. It questioned 102 of the 700 central and local-level department chiefs attending the school last year on their views on the nation's reform progress, prospects and problems.
Unlike previous surveys in which the reform of state-owned enterprises and restructuring of the bureaucracy topped the list of cadres' concerns, this year, for the first time, the political reform issue has jumped to the top of the list.
Professor Qing Nian-bin, one of the study's authors, said cadres believed this year and next would be critical to seeing if leaders would tackle the issue of political reform, with the leadership reshuffle, followed by the appointment of a new government next year.
'Economic reform has progressed in the past few years but political reform has been lagging behind. The survey demonstrated that medium to high-ranking cadres want political reform to be on the agenda of the party and the Government when mapping out their work plans this year,' said Professor Qing, of the school's Sociology Department.
Cadres said they believed that separating the functions of party and government was vital to successful political reform. This should be followed by expanding democracy within the party, shaking up the role of government administrative units and improving decision-making mechanisms.
The cadres chosen for the survey were selected from both central and local levels, different departments, as well as from the prosperous south to remote western provinces.
Professor Qing said the fact they highlighted party/government relations in the study suggested they may have encountered difficulties in these working relations.
But the cadres did not think that by expanding the power of the National People's Congress (NPC) and non-communist parties, or by strengthening the role of public opinion, political reform would necessarily be promoted, Professor Qing said.
The NPC has been mocked as a 'rubber-stamp retirement home' by intellectuals.
The Communist Party has introduced political reforms, including efforts to allow the direct election of village heads and to encourage the rule of law, but liberals have urged it to democratise its own procedures and allow more checks and balances.