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Party seeks to decentralize power
Updated: 2004-07-02 10:41

Celebrating its 83rd anniversary Thursday, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has attracted even wider attention, as a birthday gift, for its ongoing pilot reforms on power balance and supervision within the party.

Rising cases of expanding democracy within the CPC are being extended at the grassroots level, an attempt to break what was addressed as inner-party "arbitrary rule by individuals" by China's late leader Deng Xiaoping.

The power decentralization is a thorny challenge to the 83-year-old CPC with nearly 70 million members. It has been looking for practical forms of democracy to hand "power to choose" back to common members. Party committees from the capital Beijing to Shenzhen, China's first economic reform pilot area next to Hong Kong, are doing the political experiments all together.

In pioneering counties, the standing committee steered by a few top leaders, usually one secretary and five deputy secretaries, was abolished. The power was returned to all members of the Party committee elected by the county's Party congress.

According to the CPC charter, local Party congresses and Party committees, elected by congress delegates, are the Party's top governing bodies at local levels. The Party committee is obligated to report its work to the Party congress, which elects the committee.

Problems, however, "stand". Party congresses at all levels traditionally convene every five years and they are not a permanent organ. This leads to the power takeover by the standing committee, usually composed of 11 members at the county level.

The group of one secretary and five vice secretaries is actually the decision maker of the 11-member group. Following a principle of "the minority is subordinate to the majority", the "group of six" would always win a vote even if all the other five members were against a certain proposal the G-6 put forward. The number of total members of a Party standing committee is an odd one, in order to avoid even results in voting.

Deng Xiaoping quoted lessons learned from the chaotic 1966-1976 "Cultural Revolution" by saying that over-centralization of the power led to truly arbitrary rule by individuals in the disguise of collective leadership.

All experimental efforts were done to break the traditional framework in which power is likely to be monopolized by a few leaders. Luotian County, central China's Hubei province, kicked off the landmark reform at the end of the last year -- replacing the 11-member standing committee with a broader 15-member committee elected by the county's Party congress.

The county's Party congress is also convened annually. During the rest of the year, the 15-member committee is authorized to decide, through secret ballots, major polices of the county and to appoint or dismiss chief officials.

Some counties went even further. For example in Lingshan Township, Pingchang County of southwest China's Sichuan province, all Party members voted in a historic direct election to pick the secretary of the township Party committee, who used to be appointed by a Party committee at a higher level or by a smaller group of top members of the same-level committee in a closed-door selection.

In Yucheng District of Ya'an City, Sichuan province, power-sharing efforts have been under way. The district's Party congress and the Party committee are in charge of policy-making while the standing committee is responsible for implementation and decisions on daily work. Moreover, a supervision committee was set up within the congress to oversee the Party committee and the Party committee's commission for discipline inspection.

Zhang Jinming, director of the organization department of the CPC Ya'an City Committee, said the decentralization returned power back to the Party committee and the congress, and via this way "back to all Party members."

The CPC Beijing Municipal Committee made public one week ago a document concerning the implementation of the CPC's first ever inner-Party supervision regulations announced in February. According to the document, the work meeting attended by the secretary and deputy secretaries will no longer serve as a top policy-making body and will have no power to make decisions on major issues as it used to do.

The CPC, founded in 1921, has now 3.5 million grassroots organizations nationwide and all its systems including the election system took shape during the pre-1949 revolutionary period and consolidated in the years prior to the reform and opening up drive initiated in the late 1970s.

Viewed today, some of the rules no longer meet the needs of the situation. Some are insufficient to strengthen the ties between the Party and the people and are not conducive to cement the Party's ruling base.

According to the CPC's milestone inner-Party supervision regulations, even the all-powerful Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee is required to report its work to the annual plenary session of the CPC Central Committee, an unprecedented move to put the top leadership under supervision.

The report delivered by Jiang Zemin at the 16th CPC National Congress in 2002 hailed the inner-Party democracy as the "life of the Party." It also stressed to expand pilot projects of "Party congresses with regular annual conferences" or standing congresses in more cities and counties, referring to convening congress sessions annually and empowering congress delegates to supervise all the time. Following the milestone congress, experiments on standing Party congresses mushroomed in Hubei and Sichuan provinces, south China's Guangdong Province, and east China's Zhejiang Province.

The reform has broken, to some extent, the traditional power structure within the Party with a secretary at the core of Party committees at various levels. Cai Dekun, secretary of the CPC Luotian County Committee, said he had to learn to work even harder and improve his way of performance to "avoid being held responsible for misplay by the Party committee or the Party congress."

A survey report by the research office of the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee noted that "the experiments of standing congresses have been proved efficient in promoting democratic and scientific policy-making, and also helping build up effective and extensive supervision mechanism."

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