In my last article I talked about “differential voting” (差额选举) in the selection of delegates to the 17th National Congress. One of my basic points was that we can look at the increase in the “differential rate” (差额) – a higher ratio of candidates to positions available – as a measure of progress on political reform (in this case, “inner-party democracy”). But of course having more candidates than positions doesn’t mean delegates to this key meeting are more active participants in party decision making.
One important reason delegates to the National Congress have very little actual decision-making power is that their participation is a once-off deal. This month 2,217 party delegates will gather in Beijing. Once the meeting is finished, so are their responsibilities as delegates. They’re off the hook for the next five years, and the party’s Central Committee takes the reins.
But there has been some discussion in China since the 16th National Congress in 2002 about whether a “regular serving system” (常任制), or chang ren zhi, should be implemented for the party congress. This would mean delegates meet to discuss party policy and cast their votes. Such a system is already in place for the National People’s Congess (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
Jiang Zemin in fact raised the issue of a regular serving system in his 2002 political report. “[We must] expand our trials for a regular serving system for national party congress delegates at the county and city levels,” Jiang’s report said. “[We must] actively seek the forms and channels by which party congress delegates can play a representative role (发挥代表作用) between the closing of congresses.”
So what would a regular serving system mean? Basically that:

*Party delegates remain in their positions for the full five years between congresses
*The party congress (and not just the Central Committee) is the highest authority
*The Central Committee (党委会) makes annual reports to the congress that are deliberated by delegates
*Delegates to the party congress can make inspections of party affairs (视察党务工作), seek input from the population, and offer proposals during the annual congress just as their counterparts in the NPC and CPPCC are able to do.

This would mark a real step forward in the process of inner-party democracy, and some believe it is also the best way to tackle the difficult problem of democratization in China.
Trials have been made since the 16th National Congress in 2002. In some areas of China there have been standing party delegates at the township, county and other levels. According to mainland media reports more than 100 counties and cities have participated in trials. Examples can be found at the following links:

[“Thoughts and Experiences on a Regular Serving System for Party Delegates“, September 2004]
[A series of reports from 2003 to 2006 on regular serving systems]

Better known among reform efforts are the “Luotian Experiment” (罗田经验) in Hubei, and the “Huizhou Experiment” in Guangdong. Sichuan has been the most active among provinces in carrying out trials for a party delegate standing system.
Trials have not yet been made for provincial party congresses or for municipalities (Shanghai, Chongqing) or provincial capital cities. So if there is an announcement at the 17th congress that a regular serving system will go into effect for central party delegates that would be major news. This may not happen. But one distinct possibility is that local trials of regular serving systems are formally affirmed at the upcoming party congress and a goal set for future implementation at the central level.
(Qian Gang, October 5, 2007)
[Translated by David Bandurski]
Previous 17th Congress article: “How will voting be handled at the 17th National Congress?

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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