Political reform

CPC meeting, 2007

For many years the CPC leadership has accepted that there must be political reform to keep the CPC in power and to improve the efficiency of government.

In 2002, President Hu stated that there was a need to create a more harmonious society to allow a better relationship between the people and the government. Hu aimed to ensure that the CPC was sufficiently responsive in order to deal with the many problems affecting China such corruption and rising inequality.

In a speech in 2007, then Prime Minister Wen Jiabao stated the aim of the Party was to create a democracy with Chinese characteristics.

On a number of occasions the CPC leadership has stated that China will never adopt Western-style democracy. The leadership believe than any attempt to introduce free elections would be economically and socially disastrous for China.

Instead the CPC aims to be more receptive to public opinion and more responsive to change. The party will look to develop practices that allow it to listen to the demands of the people and to react more appropriately. This could involve increased use of public opinion polls and focus groups. One commentator has called this approach to democracy developing a deliberative dictatorship.

Grassroots democracy

Grassroots democracy or democracy from the 'bottom up' has been developing in China for several years. The first direct elections were held in rural villages in 1988. By the early 1990s a law was introduced to establish elections in every village across the country. More recently, at the next level up, there have been elections in some of the townships.

Elections and local government do not operate in the same way as in most democracies because:

  • elections are overseen by the CPC
  • most candidates need prior CPC approval
  • town and village committees often find their powers limited by local party officials
  • independent candidates who protest their lack of power may be prevented from standing for re-election

In recent years, Chinese Communist Party membership (around 85 million) has widened to include a great many more people, especially those from the growing middle classes, as well as women and those from minority ethnic backgrounds. As membership of the CPC is, in effect, by invitation only, there are few other opportunities for individuals to involve themselves in the political process. Two exceptions are:

All-China Federation of Trade Unions

Although trade unions are not independent organisations, they have increasingly allowed members the opportunity to campaign on issues relating to workers' rights.

All-China Women's Federation

This organisation provides women with the opportunity to campaign on issues such as women's rights. It is closely aligned with the CPC and promotes government policy affecting women – such as the 'one-child' policy as well as campaigning against work-place discrimination.

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