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Chinese Inner-Party Democracy

Oct 25, 2012

As the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China draws near, China’s political orientation is once again gaining extensive attention. How is democracy practiced inside the Communist Party of China? And what will be the future direction of development of democratic politics in China? The election of delegates to the coming Congress has offered useful insight.

The just concluded election of delegates to the 18th CPC Congress has typically exemplified China’s socialist democratic politics with native characteristics in that it has been a campaign conducted under the guiding principle of democratic centralism and through ‘three integrations,’ namely, the integration of independent nomination by Party members and selection by Party organizations, the integration of determination by majority vote and solicitation of public opinion by Party organizations, and the integration of review by Party committees and comment by the general public.

A key test telling the degree of democracy inside the Communist Party of China involves initial nomination in the election of delegates to its congresses and other types of elections: is it a privilege enjoyed by Party organizations exclusively or a right shared by all Party members? Obviously, appointment of candidates by Party organizations rules out democracy, a practice not seen during the election of delegates to the coming Party congress. Instead, the whole process started with free nomination of candidates by members in grassroots Party branches, with only those winning the majority vote being forwarded by the branches for the next round of campaigning. This is a time when democracy in inner-Party election is best practiced, and when all Party members can take a part and have a say. In other words, the right to initial nomination is enjoyed by all, and the winner is determined by vote. The positive side of this practice is its full expression of the will of all Party members, while the negative facet is its high degree of decentralization, a situation that calls for the Party committee of the electoral unit concerned to confirm the initial candidates from among the numerous nominees recommended by the branches. The bottom line for such confirmation is the majority vote received by a nominee in his or her Party branch.

However, no mechanism of democracy is free of defects. The mechanism of determination by vote, for instance, is defective in two senses. First, those enjoying comparatively greater popularity or holding leading posts will get a bigger chance to be nominated; and secondly, the minority may not be duly heard. To address this problem, the election process is extended to the second step: review by Party organizations. This is an important point, at which opinion is solicited from the general public and comments are heard from all circles to make up the deficiency of the mechanism of majority-vote determination. This review is usually conducted by the Party committees of the nominees’ work units, and the purpose is to hear the opinion and comments from the Party organs, Party member representatives, staff members, and Party discipline inspection departments in these units.

Following these two steps, the first running upward from the bottom and the second downward from the top, is the third round, namely, publicity of the name-list of the nominees by the Party committee of the work unit in due forms including internal notice, TV broadcast or multimedia messaging service for public review, comments and supervision.

If no objection is raised to any of the nominees during this period of public review and comment, the electoral process would move on to the fourth step, namely, call of a full session of the Party committee to finalize the name-list of candidates by way of marginal election. In case of such name-list finalization by a Party organ at the provincial level, all non-ruling parties, federations of industry and commerce, and non-party personages concerned should be informed beforehand for opinion and comment.

On the basis of the work done so far, provincial Party congresses or meetings of representatives will be called to elect, by vote, the delegates to the national congress. The candidates to be voted should be 15 percent more than the delegated elected. A total of 2,270 delegates are elected this way, and then publicized in the media for public knowledge. Finally, these delegates are subject to qualification examination by the Credentials Committee of the congress prior to its official start.

Is the process mentioned above a demonstration of democracy? An answer to this question may be worked out by making reference to several factors that will include, as this author believes, at least the following:

·         The right over initial nomination: is it monopolized by the minority or shared by the majority?

·         The rules of game: are they fair and open?

·         The campaigning: is it conducted in a realistic way?

·         The representation: is it extensive enough?

·         The sense of individuality and satisfaction: does it prevail among all the Party members?

So far, as the recently concluded campaign to elect delegates to the coming congress of the Communist Party of China is concerned, it started with initial nomination at Party branches, the lowest-level Party organs, during which the basic rights of individual Party members were respected. The electoral standards, or the electoral mechanism as a whole, were also kept fair and impartial. As individuals, the Party members differ from each other in terms of their social identities or posts inside the Party, a fact leading to de facto injustice and inequality. They all share the same right, however, to vote and stand for election under the electoral mechanism, as evidenced by their participation in initial nomination and final election of the delegates in provincial-level meetings of representatives. This marked a substantial step toward inner-Party democracy, indeed. When it comes to confirmation at the Party committee level, public will is taken as the basis. In other words, ‘centralization’ at the Party committee should be kept within the boundary of majority vote.

Another feature of the election process is publicity of candidate namelists for review and comment by the colleagues of these candidates and the society as a whole. Subjecting candidates to scrutiny by Party members, non-Party personages, Party and non-Party organs, as well as the general public, this practice is most typical of China’s democratic politics. There have been cases whereas some candidates failed to pass such scrutiny and were moved out of the list. The current delegate election mechanism also encourages competition on a broader scale. Ever since the 1980s when China inaugurated its reform and opening-up initiative, the CPC has counted on marginal election as a key step toward perpetual democracy of its governance and rule. During the recent election of delegates to its coming congress, for instance, it was required that the candidates should outnumber the actual number of delegates by no less than 15 percent so as to extend the range of competitive selection. Finally, the delegates must be representative of all regions, all trades and all social circles. The delegates that have been officially named to attend the coming congress, for instance, have been elected by more than 80 million Party members in over 4 million Party branches, a result earning a satisfaction ratio of 97 percent from all party members.

The recent election of delegates to the coming Party congress is an orderly political process. First of all, strict conditions and criteria were put up to qualify the delegates, which covered both their political performance as Party members and the social and public reaction to their election. Secondly, the Party organs at all levels played their role as key coordinators in candidate nomination, competitive election of delegates, and organizational and guidance services. At the final step of the process, Party discipline inspection departments and the general public were brought in for scrutiny and comment. In summary, the election was a process conducted under democratic centralism from beginning to end.

Through the above discussion of the recent election of delegates to the coming Party congress and its procedural features, we can see that inner-Party democracy has become a key feature exemplifying both the development of the Communist Party of China and the advancement of democratic politics in China as a whole.

Gao Xinmin is a professor and doctoral tutor at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

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