Let internal factions emerge as step to political reform, writer urges

Members should be permitted to form internal groups and engage in political campaigns to create multi-party democracy, says historian

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 4:40am

The Communist Party should allow internal factions to campaign openly for their political ideals as a first step towards political reform and building constitutional democracy, says an expert on the party's history.

The party does not allow members with different political leanings to organise themselves but stresses individuals must be loyal only to the party, says Yang Jisheng, a 72-year-old retired Xinhua journalist.

Political activities organised by individual members are seen as a cardinal sin of "splitting the party" and are strictly forbidden.

"But in reality, it's impossible not to have factions in a party," said Yang, a liberal-leaning party member of 49 years.

Yang believes that enabling members with different aspirations to legitimately form factions and engage in their own political campaigns, and even elections, would usher in much-needed checks and balances within the party - a necessary step in reining in rampant graft and restoring its legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary people.

It would be "a big step forward" if the party constitution could acknowledge the existence of factions and set rules for political competition, Yang says.

Having competing factions would create the conditions for multi-party democracy in the future, he adds.

"As a first step, allowing factions would foster an air of competition," Yang said. "And when the factions are out in the open, multi-party politics would be one of the viable [future] options."

Allowing factions would foster an air of competition. And when the factions are out in the open, multi-party politics would be one of the viable [future] options

Yang says there are huge risks in enacting political reform in a huge country like China, but holding back from reform means social conflict will only escalate into political instability.

But if the party could initiate gradual political reform, it would be the least costly and most positive solution for the country and its people.

"If it can carry out top-down reform of its own accord, it will cause the least shock [to the political system]," Yang said.

Democratisation initiatives within the party - such as separating the functions of the party and the state, direct election of people's congress representatives and party cadres, and granting members genuine freedom to air dissenting views - are all necessary steps towards political stability, Yang argues.

Rampant corruption among officials is a key source of social discontent and there is little political accountability under the one-party rule. Top leaders have often warned against the danger of graft. In President Xi Jinping's first speech to the elite Politburo as party chief in November, he said corruption could "doom the party and the state".

However, gradually introduced political reform would avert such a fate, Yang says.

"If it's handled well, there is no need for the Communist Party to collapse," he said. "It could step down, and it could come back to life again like a phoenix reborn in fire." Yang adds that the Nationalist Party, or the Kuomintang, gave up one-party rule decades after fleeing to Taiwan, but still managed to return to power in democratic elections.

"If you don't go through this transformation, it's impossible to spurn the corrupt forces," Yang said. "But when you have stepped down, you really have to genuinely work for the interest of the people, or else you won't be in power again."

Yang's best-known book, Tombstone, which chronicled the Great Famine (late 1958 to 1962) that claimed at least 36 million lives, notes the dangerous consequences of unchecked power under Chairman Mao Zedong's rule.

The central government needs to relinquish more control over the economy and the administration of the country, Yang says. The latest government restructuring plan to merge several ministries in an effort to cut bureaucratic red tape will be futile if the government fails to extricate itself from what should be left to the private sector, he adds.

"Our government is omnipotent - it has too much administrative power," he said. "If this power isn't curbed, if its job functions don't change, then the amalgamation wouldn't be very meaningful."

Beijing's excessive administrative power over an array of sectors has resulted in rampant corruption, with many officials trading on their connections to wield influence in politics and business to accumulate vast wealth.

The national leaders should differentiate between "what a government should or should not do" if they want a genuine market economy and lean government, says Yang, who has long insisted that political reform and market economy go hand in hand.

"A small government is a strong government," he said.