A daring article urging the Communist Party to start political reforms by democratising its own procedures has caused a stir in Beijing at a time when liberals are trying to influence the agenda of next autumn's 16th Party Congress. Although the attack on China's stagnant political system appears in an obscure journal - China Party and Political Cadres' Forum - it is by Wang Guixiu, a politics professor at the Central Party School with a record for staking out reformist positions. The party school is China's top ideological think-tank and is run by Vice-President Hu Jintao, the designated successor to President Jiang Zemin. The next party congress is certain to address the issue of political reforms and various factions are trying to influence the preparations at an early stage. Professor Wang worked closely with disgraced ex-party chief Zhao Ziyang in the 1980s and helped draft Mr Zhao's speech to the 13th Communist Party Congress which outlined a vague but ambitious programme of political reform. Professor Wang made specific recommendations in the article, which appeared in the November issue of the journal: - to introduce genuine democracy within the Communist Party by adopting free voting in multi-candidate elections; - to abolish the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo, thereby making the Politburo the highest organ; - to turn the National Party Congress from a rubber stamp into a kind of standing parliament whose members are elected and are free to vote as they wish; and - to make the Discipline Inspection Commission an elected and independent body so it can supervise members more effectively. In arguing for faster reforms, Professor Wang could not avoid making a veiled criticism of President Jiang Zemin and the earlier generation of party leaders, but he tempered it by quoting both Deng Xiaoping and Mr Jiang. He cited Deng as saying: 'There are no limits set on leaders' power, so they just ask people to obey their orders.' Professor Wang also quoted from Mr Jiang's July 1 speech marking the party's 80th anniversary in which Mr Jiang said: 'Through the development of democracy inside the party we can push forward the development of people's democracy in the country.' According to Professor Wang, this statement has a 'very deep and long-term significance', because it 'shows the development of democracy inside the party can also push forward' democracy for the people. In May, Professor Wang spoke to the China News Service calling for radical changes in the manner in which party leaders are appointed, which he traced back to 'grave violations' made in the 1960s and 1970s. 'Leading officials are appointing their successors. This should be changed,' he said. He bolstered his attack by quoting Deng, who termed such practices 'feudalistic'. 'The party charter says members should be equal and enjoy the same democratic rights . . . so what actually happens contradicts the party's own constitution,' he said in the interview. But Professor Wang went further in the journal article, saying it was wrong for party members to stay on in power after their retirement either by holding life-long positions in the party or as delegates to the National People's Congress or the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. He also urged the party to establish new procedures to oversee both the appointment and retirement of party officials. He condemned the existing system as a sham. 'In fact the voters have no chance to vote for those they want. They have to obey orders and choose those nominated from above,' he wrote. He appealed to the party to move with the times and start the reforms. During the past 20 years, the development of democracy in the state had been faster than in the party, he said. 'We have to follow the trend of democracy around the world, and develop our own democracy.'