Non-Communist parties try to remain relevant

By Lin Meilian Source:Global Times Published: 2013-3-14 20:38:01


Leaders of the eight non-Communist parties and All China Federation of Industry and Commerce jointly hold a press conference on March 6 during the first session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing. Photo: CFP
Leaders of the eight non-Communist parties and All China Federation of Industry and Commerce jointly hold a press conference on March 6 during the first session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing. Photo: CFP

Not many people know of the existence of legitimate political parties outside of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on the Chinese mainland. Few can name all eight of them, known as "democratic parties."

The "two sessions," held each March, have become a high-profile platform for China's non-Communist parties to improve the public attention paid to China's system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation.

This political system was described by Minister of Health Chen Zhu, also chairman of the Chinese Peasants and Workers Democratic Party, at a press conference on March 6 as "guaranteeing the solidarity of China as the world's biggest developing country with a population of more than 1.3 billion people."

"It has motivated all parties to join hands in the country's development process," Chen said.

When asked whether these parties wish to see multi-party elections, Wan E'xiang, chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang (RCCK), said that the current political system had proved successful.

"There's an old saying in China: 'only your feet know whether the shoes are comfortable or not,'" Wan said at the press conference.

Yu Zhengsheng, the newly-elected leader of the CPPCC, told more than 2,000 political advisors at the closing meeting of the first session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on Tuesday that China will not copy Western political systems.

"We need to steadfastly uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China, adhere to and improve the system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC ... not imitate Western political systems under any circumstances," Yu was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

From many to few

There were over 300 parties in the early stages of modern China nearly a century ago, which caused "rivalry among political parties and warlords, and national disintegration," said Wan, the RCCK chairman.

"China could never have obtained such brilliant economic success today if we had followed that kind of political system," Wan said.

The eight non-Communist parties were established before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and fought together against the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek during the World War II and the Chinese civil war.

To strengthen and improve the leadership of the CPC, the Party has sought to build a new way of democracy. The CPC and the other parties reached a consensus to stay within the multi-party cooperation on the basis of political supervision, in an effort to make the ruling party's decision-making more scientific and democratic.

The development of the non-Communist parties was hindered during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) but this changed for the better after the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978, which marked the beginning of the country's reform and opening-up policy.

Over the years, the total membership of democratic parties has jumped from 65,000 in 1978 to 850,000 in 2012, although still just 1 percent of the CPC's members.

The eight non-Communist parties are not opposition parties. They participate in the discussion and administration of State affairs. However, these parties have no real power, as their capability of exercising effective supervision over the ruling party has been called into question.

Zhang Ming, professor of political science at the Renmin University of China and an expert on the history of political systems, has said China does not actually have democratic parties.

"Ever since the 1957 anti-rightist campaign, I have never seen any democratic party criticize the ruling party, let alone with any sharp criticism," Zhang posted on Weibo earlier in January.

Finding a cross to bear

Just about a month before the two sessions, Xi Jinping, new leader of the CPC, urged the Communist Party to be more tolerant of criticism form non-CPC members.

"The CPC should be able to put up with sharp criticism, correct mistakes if it has committed them and avoid them if it has not," he was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying.

"Non-CPC people should meanwhile have the courage to tell the truth, speak words that are jarring to the ear, and truthfully reflect public aspirations," he added.

In response, Chen Changzhi, chairman of the China Democratic National Construction Association, gave an example of how the party exercises democratic supervision.

Three years ago, he found out about 100 cities that had declared new energy as part of their pillar industries, which he believed to be a waste of resources. So he pointed out this problem to their central consultative meeting directly.

"The democratic parties should speak the truth," he said, "but criticism should be realistic and rational."

Zhu Shihai, professor at the Central Institute of Socialism, told the Global Times that it is hard for non-CPC parties to voice criticism.

"It is hard for them to voice different views as they stand on the same side as the ruling party. If they voice some sharp criticism in public, they would be viewed as 'rude' or 'impolite,'" Zhu said.

The party delegates, mainly intellectuals and businesspeople from a vast cross-section of industries such as the sciences, technology, healthcare, culture, education and the environment, study social problems and submit their proposals to the CPPCC, the advisory body that meets alongside the National People's Congress as part of the two sessions.

Many of their proposals this year have focused on pollution. Shi Zhongyan, deputy director of the Dalian Environmental Protection Bureau and member of the RCCK, told the Global Times that the public should pay more attention to tackling pollution in rural areas.

"Too much attention has been paid to air pollution, but I believe cleaning up the rural environment should be a top priority for China in the coming years," Shi said.

CPPCC member Wang Donglin from the China Democratic League (CDL), the largest party among the eight, criticized the mass leaking of graduate school exam papers during last year's two sessions.

"As the political reforms continue, you can see more and more non-Communist party members daring to speak out," Wang, also a professor at Jiangxi Normal University, told the Global Times.

"But you have to voice your view rationally," he said.

"If you want to say whatever you want, you say it on the Internet."

Still, Zhu thinks that only being encouraged to speak out from the top down won't work. The key is how to exercise and encourage this from within the system.

"The election of CPPCC members is mainly a result of so-called 'negotiation' as in some provinces, people can buy spots with a lot of cash," Zhu said. "Introducing a voting system can help solve these problems because if you don't stand up and speak for the people, you will lose your votes."

Why bother joining?

More and more non-Communist party members have been appointed as chiefs of government agencies. Statistics have shown that about 32,000 non-CPC party members worked as senior officials at various levels of government, legislatures and judicial authorities at the end of 2010, according to Xinhua.

Beside Health Minister Chen Zhu, Wan Gang, a member of the China Zhi Gong Party, was appointed as Science and Technology Minister. They were the first non-CPC appointees to ministry-level posts since the 1970s.

"The lack of faith from young people is disturbing," said RCCK member Shi Zhongyan. "When we consider if a person is qualified to join our party, this person has to be a believer in communism. They cannot bring the party to the opposite side of the CPC."

Shi joined the RCCK in 2001, and believes the party is a platform of rich resources and for intelligent people.

Aging non-Communist parties are welcoming fresh crops of talent but the recruitment process is not easy. Candidates must be non-CPC party members who stand out among their peers and must be recommended by current party members. Many talented young people join the CPC while at university, leaving slim pickings for the other political parties.

Gao Yubao, 58, remembers that in 1994, two years after he returned to China from the UK, he was recommended to join the CDL by his teacher at Nankai University.

"Many people aged under 30 are less likely to be recruited as we believe those over 30 have a relatively mature outlook on the world and on life," Gao said.

However, studies have found that 50 percent of new members of non-CPC parties say they do not really understand the multi-party cooperation political system.

In Shanghai's Putuo district for example, at least half of 57 newly recruited non-CPC party members surveyed said they needed theoretical training on Chinese politics. About 60 percent of them said they wanted to know more about China's economic development through their party, according to a 2011 survey by local government.

"As there are so many democratic parties fighting for talents, learning how to appeal to young people has become paramount," said Wang.

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