Political reform back on the agenda

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 12:00am

Making the party more responsive is seen as the next step after economic changes

The Communist Party is expected to tackle political reforms at the fourth plenum of the 16th Party Congress this autumn. The aim is to consolidate and give momentum to piecemeal changes already made, according to the mainland-backed Wen Wei Po newspaper and political analysts.

After economic reforms were entrenched at the third plenum by strengthening the protection of private property, encouraging competition and reviving the old northeast industrial heartland, the fourth plenum will focus on implementing measures to make the party more efficient and responsive to a rapidly changing society.

The need for political reforms was not lost on thoughtful members of the Communist Party after the collapse of socialist regimes in the 1990s. The Central Party School has been taking seriously the task of finding ways to engage in institutional reforms and involve the masses, out of fear that China could follow in the footsteps of the communist governments of the former Soviet Union and other eastern European countries.

The leadership under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao has sought to strengthen the party and make it more relevant to society by emphasising greater accountability and transparency.

At last year's third plenum, the ruling Politburo for the first time presented a work report to the Central Committee for scrutiny and criticism.

New regulations on intra-party supervision and discipline were promulgated to bring about more checks and balances for party officials.

In a widely reported speech to the Politburo on the eve of National Day last year, Mr Hu called for the introduction of political reforms to allow greater participation.

But expectations could easily run ahead of reality, as the conservative old guard around former president Jiang Zemin - who retains the powerful position of Central Military Commission chairman - presented formidable resistance, analysts say.

Hopes that Mr Hu would seize the political momentum to launch democratic political reforms were raised several times last year, but the changes are slow to come.

With political propaganda work, for example, many senior party members are aware of the need to adapt to changes in the way people think and give the people more choice, but the controls have not eased.

Writing in Study Times, the publication of the Central Party School, political scientist Shen Shiguang warned that given the mainland's technological and social changes, an 'ideological soft landing' was essential as it formed the basis of a country's political life and sustainable economic development.

But it remains unclear whether the new leadership has consolidated its position well enough to set the political agenda.