Wenzhou crash response exposes rot in political system, say analysts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2011, 12:00am


The official handling of the Wenzhou train accident and its aftermath has descended into a disastrous mess for the government's credibility and exposed serious flaws in the Ministry of Railways and the political system, according to mainland analysts. They have called upon Beijing to introduce political reform.

A disrespect for life, demonstrated by 'cold-blooded' officials who tried to bury the train carriage inside which two-year-old Xiang Weiyi, nicknamed 'Yiyi', was still alive, flies in the face of people's core values, they said.

Analysts said the problems laid bare by the ministry's much-criticised response could only be addressed if political power were restricted under an improved system.

A thorough investigation into the cause of the accident, as pledged by Premier Wen Jiabao, would show up the ministry's flaws as a reflection of the whole system, said Du Guang, a retired professor of the Party School of the Communist Party's Central Committee.

'There's still hope for China if the tragedy can become a driving force for an economic and political overhaul of authoritarianism,' he said.

'Accountability for the accident must be pursued inside the ministry. The problems identified in the ministry, such as unchecked power, exist throughout the entire political system. The core of political reform is to constrain power and prevent its abuse.'

The authorities would not change their attitude unless citizens or National People's Congress delegates who truly represented them had the right to sack officials, said Professor Hu Xingdou of the Beijing Institute of Technology.

'I'm hoping that the government will launch some kind of political reform following the accident, especially implementing direct elections of NPC delegates and Communist Party representatives,' Hu said.

'The authorities should fundamentally understand the seriousness of the issue and get on with reform within the framework of the constitution. Only elections can empower people and take irresponsible and indifferent officials in hand.'

He believed that the need for stability should not pose an obstacle to reform.

The mainland had 'a political system of contradiction', Hu noted. On the one hand, the various political powers could balance and restrain one another - between the police, prosecutors and courts, and between the judicial system and the NPC - but on the other hand, they were all under the leadership of Communist Party committees, he said. 'Reform dedicated to restraining the different powers should be carried out,' he said.

Fei Liangyong, chairman of the Federation for a Democratic China, said in an open letter that the country's breakneck speed of development had led to a low level of human rights and security.

'Disasters in China are mainly man-made as a result of corruption and an authoritarian system,' Fei wrote. 'The disaster has shown the urgent need for reform of the railway system, which should extend to the whole system.'

He believed the political system was flawed as human rights and safety were not properly protected. 'But it's very difficult for people in power to carry out the reform.'

Calls for dismantling the ministry have been growing since the July 23 train crash. Internet users hailed political analyst Liu Junning's argument that the 'fossil' of the planned economy was doomed to corruption.

'The ministry serves political achievements, not people's livelihoods,' Liu wrote on his microblog.

Sometimes a special event or opportunity could reform a ministry, Yu Hui, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Industrial Economics, said at a seminar organised by Tencent.com on Friday.

'An opportunity has just emerged through passengers paying a bloody price,' Yu said. He called on the ministry to 'separate business from administration in the next reform of government institutions'.

Another analyst said the disaster should be a chance to improve the 'social management system', party jargon for political control preventing disorder.

'I hope this tragedy will lead to reform, not only of the railway management system, but also of social management,' said He Haibo, associate professor of Tsinghua University's law school. 'Improvement of social management should focus on building a reaction mechanism for disasters as the current mechanism targets only stability,' said He.