Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Legitimacy of Communist Party of China
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While India is debating the interference by one of the 3 pillars of democracy into another’s domain, China does not face such problems as all the pillars of governance, i.e. judiciary, legislative, executive and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have to obey the diktats from the Communist Party of China (CPC), namely the Politburo of its Central Committee.
It is a fact that for nearly 7 decades, discussing the legitimacy of the Party’s supremacy has been forbidden in China.
However, with the changing economic scenario and as the cadres prepare to hold the 5th Plenum of the 18th Party Congress next week, we may soon witness changes.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) recently reported: “Open discussion by top graft-buster Wang Qishan about the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party - a topic long deemed unquestionable - has raised the eyebrows of some commentators.”
While addressing the Party and World Dialogue 2015 in Beijing last month, Wang, a member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee asserted: “The legitimacy of the Communist Party of China derives from history, and depends on whether it is supported by the will of the people; it is the people's choice."
It is a new discourse, especially in front of a gathering which included overseas participants.
Though the Hong Kong newspaper said that many analysts did not agree with Wang's interpretation of ‘legitimacy’, it indeed marked a change of wind. The SCMP quoted Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based commentator, who believed that Wang's remarks mark “a shift of attitude in the party as a result of intensified social conflicts and increasing pressure from an underperforming economy.”
Zhang added: “In the past, the issue was not allowed to be discussed, because the Party thinks its rule is justified unquestionably.”
Many China watchers believe that since Mao’s death and the advent of Deng Xiaoping at the end of the 1970s, the Party's legitimacy mainly relied on economic growth, which was supposed to suffice for the masses. That was the ‘to get rich is glorious’ policy of Deng.
Earlier, during the Great Helmsman’s days, political power grew out of the barrel of a gun. Today, China cannot depend anymore on the ‘gun’ to impose its rule over the masses and with the power of Xiaoping’s mantra receding with the economic slowdown, is the Party’s ‘legitimacy’ fading away?
It is where India has a great advantage over the Middle Kingdom, and this, despite the dysfunctional ups and downs of the democratic process.
In March, the Qiushi, the CPC’s organ mentioned that development has brought about new challenges for the Party to maintain its relationship with the public. It listed some of these challenges.
One is income disparity which increased the public's complaints: “If not resolved, these complaints will weaken confidence and trust in the Party,” the article says.
Then, the open market economy has brought “laissez-faire and a multicultural ideology”, and the Party’s publication concludes: “This has weakened and diluted the Party's education of the public.”
Further, the plurality in the social structure makes it difficult to lead and guide the people, asserts the Qiushi, while, “economic globalization and the Internet make it easier for the West to achieve a cultural infiltration of China.”
It is always easier to blame a ‘foreign hand’, but it does not change the fact that the Party is facing more and more problems of ‘legitimacy’.
The Party organ also quotes the disintegration of some regimes (‘coloured’ revolutions), “all have had a disturbing psychological impact on the people of China,” before concluding: “some people no longer trust and follow the propaganda of the Party the way they used to.”
And what about the large scale corruption in the Party and in the PLA?
Many feel that the possibility of a revolution could not be ruled out in China today. The situation in the Armed Forces is particularly worrying for the leadership in Beijing.
In April, Xinhua reported that Xi Jinping, Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), approved a Notice titled, “Opinion to Develop a Political Team of Cadres That Will Demonstrate Absolute Loyalty to the Party, Has a Strong Capability to Fight in Wars, and Displays a Good Work Style and Image.”
When this type of ‘order’ is issued in China, it usually means that the opposite is happening; in other words, senior officers are no more loyal to the Party.
The Notice directed that all levels within the PLA should focus on “strengthening the ideology work to build a strong Party spirit; strictly abide by the political rules and requirements; display devotion to the Party; and ensure absolute obedience to the Party’s directions, to the PLA’s Political Department, and to Chairman Xi.”
The anti-corruption campaign has targeted scores of PLA officers (more than 50 generals are said have been investigated).
In June, Reuters quoted the PLA Daily affirming that ‘enemy’ forces were trying to infiltrate the ranks to push for the ‘de-politicisation’ of the military and reduce the Party's role in the Army.
The PLA publication admitted: “With a changing society, younger officers were now entering the forces without a proper understanding of the party's role and its discipline requirements.”
It cited Mao: “When political discipline is firm, then the ruling party prospers; when political discipline is weak, the ruling party falls … Liberalism has always been the great enemy."
The military is deeply shaken with two former CMC’s deputy chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou being charged with corruption.
In a separate analysis, the SCMP affirmed, “Without a more durable basis for power, challenges loom.”
It cites some facts of history: 3,000 years ago, the House of Zhou overthrew the Shang dynasty in the battle of Muye and became the Middle Kingdom’s new ruler. At that time, the Duke of Zhou came up with the concept of the Mandate of Heaven: a bad ruler will be thrown away by Heaven and replaced by a virtuous one: “but the new king, whose legitimacy came from heaven, must have good conduct for it to continue endorsing his status as the rightful ruler.”
Historically, dynasties which have not been able to deliver the goods to the masses have been overthrown. Rebellions or revolts are a sign that the divine approval was been withdrawn and that it is time for the Kingdom to give way for a new dynasty, which will have Heaven’s legitimacy.
Sensing the changing winds in the midst of China’s economic difficulties, Wang Qishan decided to break the taboo and mention the Party's legitimacy: “For things to work in China, we have to see whether the people are happy or not, satisfied or not, whether they would approve of our work”, he said.
At the same time, Xinhua reported that President Xi Jinping's push for reforms has “come up against unimaginably fierce resistance.”
The news agency said that “the in-depth reform touches the basic issue of reconfiguring the lifeblood of this enormous economy and is aimed at making it healthier …the scale of the resistance is beyond what could have been imagined.”
Reuters, which reproduced the article, commented: “the commentary suggested the reforms had not achieved the desired results and were opposed by various factions.”
According to Xinhua, the strength of the CPC is still growing, it would have gained 1.1 million members last year, taking the Party’s membership to some 88 million, (more than the population of Germany), but, at the same time, disillusion has also exponentially grown amongst the masses.
Xinhua may speak of the strengthened vitality of the Party under Xi, but the fact remains that in China today, less and less ‘aam aadmi’ believe that the Communist Party can solve the issues facing the Chinese Nation.
A rather worrying challenge for the Party and its current leadership.