Political reform in China won't be driven by crises, says theorist

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 6:25am

The troubled Wukan model shows that China's political reform can't be propelled by crises in governance, but only by gradual democratic development focusing on improving the way officials are elected and monitored in office, says a leading political theorist.

Yu Keping, deputy chief of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, told a forum yesterday organised by the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute that political reform driven by crises always produced inconsistent results or even social disorder, with the current state of affairs in Wukan an example.

One year ago, following months of sometimes violent confrontation with authorities over illegal land grabs, villagers in Wukan in eastern Guangdong won an unprecedented victory, being allowed to vote directly for their seven-member village committee. Their joy was short-lived. Today many villagers complain that none of their elected leaders have met their expectations, while the officials say they regret ever running for election.

"In our political system, only party heads are real policymakers, but they are selected by an inner-party voting system, not directly by villagers," said Yu, 54, who gained fame with a 2007 essay tilted Democracy is a Good Thing. "Villagers are always enthusiastic when they take part in grass-roots elections, but later feel disappointed when they realise that the official they support is just 'No2'."

"The Wukan model showed us that crisis dynamics is not the best way to push political reform because of our lack of progressive democratic development and ways to improve systems."

To solve this problem, Yu said some townships had settled on another voting system in which candidates for party chief are first approved by the public through acclamation while the successful candidate is selected by ballot.

"But the promotion of democracy is never easy, and so far just 500 of the more than 40,000 townships in the mainland follow the acclamation and direct election system," Yu said.

He said Beijing had to improve its system of checks and balances to rein in officials' unlimited privileges.

"The impact of privileges is much worse than corruption because corruption is illegal, but privileges are still part of our political system."

Qin Hui , a professor of humanities and social sciences at Beijing's Tsinghua University, said political reform could be finally motivated by a massive awakening of civic awareness.