Chinese Democracy: the Two-Party System is a One Party State

The struggle for political independence from autocratic and dictatorial control of government by entrenched party elites is global in its scope.  Consider the recent news coming out of China.  From the Christian Science Monitor:
About 80 independent candidates for local Peoples' Congresses are using the power of social media in China to challenge the Communist party's lock on political office.  As local government elections get underway nationwide in China, a new breed of independent would-be politician is emerging to challenge the ruling Communist party’s near total stranglehold on political power. 
Harnessing the mobilizing power of social networking websites for the first time and attracting unprecedented attention to themselves, these candidates for local Peoples’ Congresses are posing a dilemma for the government.

“There appears to be some uncertainty and debate at the upper echelons [of government] about how to deal with this,” says Russell Leigh Moses, author of an upcoming book on the changing nature of power in China. . . .
That uncertainty appears to have already been overcome. From Xinhua:
China said Wednesday that there is no such a thing as an "independent candidate," as it's not recognized by law, amid ongoing elections starting this year of lawmakers at the county and township legislatures.
The Electoral Law stipulates that candidates for lawmakers at the county- and township- levels should be first nominated as "deputy candidate" and then confirmed as "official deputy candidate" in due legal procedures, said an official of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.
As I have argued in these pages time and again, the two-party system in the United States has effectively transformed the country into a one-party state.  A comparison with China regarding the status of independents is highly instructive.  In announcing that "there's no such thing as an "independent" candidate," China's official policy is, disturbingly, in accord with the views of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  When he was recently queried as to how his new ethics law would affect independents, Cuomo was unequivocal in his answer: "They don't exist," he said, to gales of laughter from his allies in the Democratic and Republican parties.  Needless to say, Cuomo's statement – as arrogant as it was ignorant – is factually incorrect.

China's official statement on independents also bears a striking resemblance to policies and proposals that have recently been promulgated on the west coast.  In California, "Independent" candidates are, strictly speaking, no longer allowed on the ballot.  In Oregon, a proposal was recently floated to prohibit the use of the word "independent" in the name of a political party.  In numerous other states, such as Idaho and South Carolina, ruling party insiders and activists are working tirelessly to ensure that  independents are barred from casting ballots in publicly funded primary elections.  The New York Times adds a bit more detail to the situation in China:
At the same time, citizens still have a right to proclaim themselves “independent candidates,” Mr. Xu maintained, “just as they have a right to choose their own names.”. . .  In practice, candidates are largely handpicked by Communist Party officials and committees, and outsiders are frequently discouraged from seeking office. Candidates have run their own campaigns and won office in the past, but victories have been exceedingly rare and re-election even more difficult . . . Candidates who lack official favor frequently find their route to office blocked, even if they meet legal qualifications.
Does that sound eerily familiar to you too?  The parallels to the obstacles faced by independent candidates here in the US are difficult to ignore, aren't they?  An individual has the right to run for office as an "independent" candidate here too, of course.  But in practice, most candidates are largely handpicked by officials from the ruling parties, and outsiders are frequently discouraged from seeking office by insiders and party activists.  Independent candidates have run their own campaigns and won office in the past, but victories are rare, and re-election difficult.  Candidates who lack official favor from the party machines and their mouthpieces in the corporate media frequently find their route to office blocked – they are excluded from debates and ignored or dismissed by the press and polling organizations – even if they meet legal qualifications.  

The two-party system is a one-party state.  See the China Elections blog for profiles of some of the Independent candidates who are seeking to crash the party. 

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

I've always wondered why the Chinese don't introduce something like a direct primary system. I know the answer intellectually -- they're too committed to "democratic centralism" in theory and to personal factionalism in practice -- but giving the masses contested elections would go a long way to polishing China's image abroad, and would approximate the "one party, two parties" system you describe in the U.S. The Chinese Communists could learn from America that the easiest way to constrain popular demand for more choices is to convince them that they can (and have to) make a decisive choice between the options the system already provides. I don't think the U.S. arrived at that point on purpose, but we do provide a model that could be imitated consciously elsewhere in the future.