Reluctance to cede control may undermine Communist Party's fight against graft

Communist Party's promise to increase cadre supervision won't succeed without efforts to establish checks on official power, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 9:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 3:47am

The Communist Party's latest pledge to increase oversight over its 80 million members is being called a step in the right direction, but analysts said the move would do little to root out corruption without better institutional checks on power.

Last month, the decision-making Central Committee announced its first-ever five-year plan to fight graft and improve supervision over cadres. In it, the party said it would gradually increase internal party regulations and put officials under close watch by disciplinary authorities.

The committee's statement provided few specifics, saying the details would be worked out over the next four years. It did, however, say an internal database would be set up to record the personal income and financial information of party officials and help identify ill-gotten gains.

"On paper the new rules sound good and demonstrates the party's determination to improve transparency," said Zhu Zhiqun, an expert in East Asian politics at Bucknell University in South Carolina.

"In practice, one has to see how strictly the party will implement the new rules and whether they will curb corruption, abuse of power and other problems within the party," he said.

The move comes during a national crackdown on corruption launched after President Xi Jinping assumed power last year. Since then, scores of officials have been detained, arrested or prosecuted on graft charges.

Pu Xiaoyu, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, said the party traditionally emphasised morality and self-discipline within its own ranks to try to combat corruption.

But without institutional checks and balances to counter its power, such as a genuinely independent legislature and courts, this was usually ineffective in reining in abuses.

But Pu said that any increased respect even for internal laws and regulations within the party could lead to political change in the long term.

"Maybe the intra-party rule of law might be a transitional path towards the rule of law in China, just like intra-party democracy could promote democracy in the long term," he said.

Analysts said Xi's priority was to strengthen the party's authority and grip on government and it was unlikely that he would ever allow it to lose power.

Some said such an effort to strengthen party rule could further weaken the rule of law, particularly when its regulations were in conflict with national legislation. "Strictly speaking, China is not a country under the rule of law," said Deng Yuwen, a visiting scholar at the University of Nottingham in Britain. "We can just hope that the formulation of party regulations should be put under the jurisdiction of the national constitution and law.''

Analysts said the reforms of the shuanggui system, in which cadres are detained and interrogated by the party's disciplinary authorities, might reveal whether the party was prepared to relinquish power and be subject to civil law on the mainland.

Sources in the party said last month that it was considering scaling down the system. The practice has been widely criticised by human rights advocates and lawyers.

Pu, of the University of Nevada, questioned whether the party would ever defer to the law if its authority was questioned.

"Of course, in the short term, facing the potential tension between the party rule and the national law, the party would not give up its leading authority,'' he said. "The positive effects might still be limited."