Direct Elections in China?

I’ve claimed in a couple of my posts here that eventually political reform will happen in China, but that it will take time. I ran across this article on Xinhua, “Chinese villagers make bold attempts at democracy,” which seems to support what I think will happen.

I believe that the CCP leadership wants to introduce political reform gradually, so as to prevent bloody uprisings of the kind we have seen in the Middle East. They value “stability and a harmonious society” almost above all else (second only, perhaps, to maintaining CCP power). So, I think that we will see the CCP gradually allow more direct elections and democratic reform, so long as the power of the CCP is not threatened.

So what does this mean?

I think that we will see elections first in rural areas, in small villages – which is what the Xinhua article says has been happening for a while now (I had heard of this before).

Since December 1998, villagers of Buyun Township, in southwest China’s largely rural Sichuan Province, have elected magistrates to manage township affairs and assign resources.

The 1998 township election in Sichuan was a landmark in Chinese direct elections, although at a grassroots level.

 Now, I doubt very much that the candidates in these elections were independent in any meaningful way. I am near certain that they were vetted by the CCP leadership in that area and were not members of any independent political party or organization. But this does seem to be part of a pattern followed by the CCP leadership – they will allow for “experiments” with different policies in some places, and then monitor the results to see if that policy could be applied on a larger scale. In this case, it appears that these village experiments in direct democracy have been deemed at least somewhat successful, since it appears that the CCP leadership is making way for more direct elections. From the Xinhua article: 

BEIJING, March 12 (Xinhua) — Outspoken but under-educated villagers gathered courage to speak out over who could be elected as village leaders and how village budgets should be allocated.

The rights to make such bold moves, attempted in various Chinese villages, were ensured by the People’s Republic of China Constitution as well as “a complete set of types of laws.”

Wu Bangguo, China’s top legislator, said during the annual legislative session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) that the world’s most populated country had enacted 236 laws, over 690 administrative regulations and more than 8,600 local statutes by the end of 2010.

Nearly 3,000 lawmakers discussed how to effectively broaden democracy during the ongoing Fourth Session of the 11th NPC. (emphasis mine)

So, I expect that we will see direct elections spread to more villages and then larger townships in China, starting in those places where the CCP leadership is more “progressive.” It is doubtful that independent parties or candidates will play any meaningful role in these elections for quite a while (and, yes, I am aware that China does technically have independent parties, but they aren’t truly independent and exist only as long as they don’t challenge the CCP).

There is a good chance that the Xinhua article is just a propaganda puff piece to improve the CCP’s international image. Nevertheless, I see it as remarkable.  An official newspaper of the CCP is openly calling for democracy to grow in the People’s Republic. The closing paragraph of the Xinhua article:

The Sichuan and Zhejiang democracy attempts have demonstrated the country’s resolve in heading for democracy. It still takes time and practice to know about its value, observers said.

I hope that this article in Xinhua is more than just talk and that the CCP will allow real reforms, so that the Chinese people can realize the political freedom that I believe all people want.

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