One interesting bit of news we should look for at the 17th Congress this year is the possibility the party congress might, for the first time in its history, put a system of proposals (提案制度) into practice. If this does happen, it will raise a key question – can Communist Party delegates (党代表) actually serve as representatives and have their say in debates over party matters?

Procedures for making proposals (提案) and motions (提议) are in place for the National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – known as the “two meetings” – but such an arrangement has never existed for national meetings of the Party.

The speeches by leaders reported in the media are generally “discussions” of the political report issued by the top leader, or about amendments to the Party Constitution — and these are notes of support rather than dissent. We do not see real discussion, debate or criticism on party matters. Delegates are there instead to offer up eulogies and make impassioned speeches of solidarity. It is essentially correct to call the national congress a rubberstamping body.

But over the last five years there have been signs of change. On September 19, 2004, the Central Party passed its “Decision on Strengthening the Party’s Governance Capability” (关于加强党的执政能力建设的决定). That document talked about “building a proposal system for the national party congress”. Such systems have already been put into place for some party congresses at the county and city levels. They have not yet been rolled out for provincial or municipal-level congresses, but a so-called “working opinions handling” (工作建议办理) system for delegates set up for the recent party congress in Zhejiang province comes very close.

After the Central Party announced the 17th Congress would be held on October 15 this year, the official People’s Daily Online ran a Weblog from a party member that posed three crucial questions:

1. Have you written your proposals yet?
2. Have you properly prepared yourself to face the media?
3. Have you set up your Weblog yet?

If a proposals system is put into effect for the 17th Congress, we’ll need to pay special attention to a number of questions. What proposals will the delegates make? Even if they don’t make formal proposals, what will they say at the congress?

* Can they talk about the corruption case against Chen Liangyu?
* Can they talk about the substantial number of corruption cases against provincial and ministerial-level officials this year?
* Can they talk about a system of permanent tenure (党代表常任制), in which delegates to the party congress participate in party affairs on a more regular basis?
* Can they talk about HIV-Aids, coal-mining disasters, food safety and other pressing issues?
* Can they talk about watchdog journalism and media reform?
* Can they talk about the party’s history, about the question of how to assess such figures as Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang?
* Can all of these things be discussed openly? Semi-openly?

(Qian Gang, October 8, 2007)
[Translated by David Bandurski]

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