Archive for ‘Democracy’

13/03/2019

India’s main opposition promises jobs for women amid heated election campaign

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s main opposition Congress party will reserve a third of federal government jobs for women if it comes into power, its chief Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday, in a sign women’s rights are rising up the political agenda for next month’s election.

Over the last week, two powerful parties from eastern India said they would field women in a third of parliamentary races, putting pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other big parties to follow suit.

India ranks at 149 out of 193 countries – worse than neighbouring Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – for the percentage of women in national parliaments, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an independent organisation promoting democracy.

“For how many generations have people talked about reservation in party positions, reservation for elections, reservation in jobs? But it doesn’t seem to happen,” BJP spokesperson Shaina N.C. said.
There are currently 66 women out of a total 543 elected members in India’s lower house of parliament. At 12 percent, this is the highest ever proportion of women in the Lok Sabha.
Women make up nearly half of all voters in the country of 1.3 billion people, according to the Election Commission of India. Based on recent state polls, women will likely head to voting stations in droves for the elections due by May, surpassing male turnout, analysts predict.
On Tuesday, Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state, said her All India Trinamool Congress party would field 17 women candidates across 42 seats.
Earlier, on Sunday, the Biju Janata Dal, which rules Odisha state in eastern India, said it would reserve seven of 21 seats it is contesting for women candidates.
“33% reservation in parliament will give them bigger role in highest policy making body,” Naveen Patnaik, leader of the BJD and Odisha’s chief minister, said in a tweet.
“Women of our nation rightfully deserve this from all of us.”
Source: Reuters
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11/03/2019

Modi’s former ally in Kashmir urges India to talk to Pakistan

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – India should talk to Pakistan and separatists in Kashmir to defuse tension raised by a suicide attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy that was claimed by Pakistan-based militants, a former chief minister of the state said.

Mehbooba Mufti, who was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir from early 2014 to June last year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party withdrew support for her regional party, said an ongoing crackdown on militants and those supporting secession could further alienate the people.

India has vowed to kill all the militants in the country’s only Muslim-majority state if they don’t give up arms, after a 20-year-old local man killed 40 paramilitary troopers in a suicide attack last month.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has sought to speak with Modi amid the hostility, said no militant group would be allowed to operate from his country to carry out attacks abroad, days after his government announced a sweeping crackdown against Islamist militant organisations.
“This confrontational attitude – no talks, no discussion -has an impact,” Mufti said. “Whatever relationship we have with Pakistan, it has a direct impact on Jammu and Kashmir and we are the worst sufferers of this animosity.”
Indian authorities have arrested many separatist leaders in Kashmir in the past few weeks, and the chief of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said recently that the government had made it clear to them that “if they want to live in India, they will have to speak the language of India, not Pakistan’s”.
Mufti, whose father was also a chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said the tough stance by Indian authorities would only lead to “some calm on the surface” that won’t last. India killed 248 militants in Kashmir in 2018 – the highest in a decade.
“Once you start choking the space for dissent in a democracy, people feel pushed to the wall and then it leads to further dissent and alienation,” she said.
Mufti said India’s general election – starting April 11 and whose results will be declared on May 23 – could delay the process of any inter-party talks on Kashmir.
Source: Reuters
27/01/2019

Spy novels, ‘daigou’ and democracy: the many lives of Australian writer held in China

EIJING/SYDNEY (Reuters) – A Chinese-born Australian writer detained by authorities in Beijing for suspected espionage has long been a divisive figure among overseas Chinese dissidents and activists.

To his supporters, Yang Hengjun is a dedicated democracy activist who believed that China’s autocratic system would, with time, necessarily liberalize. His detractors say he had long since abandoned criticising the ruling Chinese Communist Party in favour of protecting his personal and business interests.

Yang, 53, whose legal name is Yang Jun, was detained in southern China’s Guangzhou while waiting for a transfer to Shanghai earlier this month, after flying in from New York.

He was taken to Beijing, where China has said the city’s State Security Bureau is holding him under “coercive measures”, a euphemism for detention, as he is investigated on suspicion of “endangering state security”.

Yang’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told Reuters his client was suspected of “espionage”, and was being held under “residential surveillance at a designated location”, a special detention measure that allows authorities to interrogate suspects without necessarily granting access to legal representation.

Although his recent writing has mostly avoid Chinese politics, Yang first became prominent in the early 2000s when he earned the nickname of “democracy peddler”.

Before censorship of China’s microblogs intensified, Yang’s essays on topics ranging from Chinese nationalism to the fate of ethnic minorities in Tibet, made him a popular commentator. He also wrote a trilogy of spy novels set in China.

More recently, Yang had largely steered clear of issues deemed sensitive by the Communist Party, only occasionally writing about U.S. politics, and instead had thrown his energy into a “daigou” business, procuring overseas products for Chinese buyers.

His store on China’s popular mobile platform WeChat sold U.S.-made luxury bags, vitamins, baby formula and watches.

An employee of the store, who declined to be named, said that Yang started the store at the request of his readers, who wanted to buy real and fairly priced goods. Asked what would happen to the store now, he said he was waiting for instructions.

“KEEPS TO HIMSELF”

For the last two years, Yang, who friends describe as an affable, jocular but academic figure, had been living in New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

“He was quite aloof from politics and tended to keep his personal news to himself,” Yang’s former landlord, New York-based businessman Yi Gai, told Reuters.

“About 75 percent of his energy and time was spent on his daigou work,” added Yi, who is also a friend of Yang’s.

Another friend, who hadn’t spoken to Yang in several months, said the Australian writer believed his views were not a challenge to China’s rulers.

“He played within the system. He had never called for the bottom to rise up. He wants reform only,” said the friend, who declined to be named for fear for his safety.

Feng Chongyi, an academic at the University of Technology in Sydney, who was himself detained during a 2017 visit to China, said he believed Yang’s detention was related to his international connections.

Tensions have risen in recent weeks between China and some Western countries after two Canadians, a diplomat on unpaid leave and a consultant, were arrested in China on suspicion of endangering state security.

Those arrests were widely seen in the West as retaliation by China for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a senior Huawei Technologies executive, on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Australian officials have called on China to handle the matter “transparently and fairly”, but have downplayed the connection between Yang’s case and those of the Canadians.

“He is well-connected in China and internationally. He knows high-profile people in the Communist Party and he believed that meant he could travel to China with relative impunity,” Feng said.

POOR BACKGROUND

Yang came from a poor background in China, but studied political economy at Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, according to his own accounts of his time there.

Yang had often told friends that, before his writing career, he worked for China’s Foreign Ministry. But ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told Reuters that Yang had never been employed there.

He would also tell friends that he knew Wang Huning, the Chinese Communist Party’s chief of ideology, while at Fudan, according to two sources.

Friends say he became an Australian citizen in the early 2000s.

Xia Yeliang, a former professor at Peking University who now lives in Virginia, said Yang was a controversial figure among China’s overseas dissident community.

Yang was believed in recent years to have married a well-known nationalist blogger, Yuan Ruijuan, souring his reputation among overseas democracy activists, Xia told Reuters by phone.

At times Yang had said his spy novels, which were serialised on his website, were based on his abundant personal experience within the Chinese system, Xia added.

The novels pit China’s spy agency against the CIA and FBI and include double-agents, clones, and a main character who, like Yang, wrote fictional spy novels and attended Fudan University.

Yi, the landlord and friend, said Yang “was not willing to keep in close contact with radical dissidents, and definitely wouldn’t cooperate with them, so it’s natural that radical dissidents would be suspicious and speculate about him”.

Before Yang left for China this month, Yi and some friends met him and the topic of his security came up, but everyone thought he would be fine.

“It looks like we misjudged,” he said.

Source: Reuters
01/10/2014

Hong Kong democracy protesters and officials mark uneasy National Day | Reuters

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters thronged the streets of Hong Kong on Wednesday, some of them jeering National Day celebrations, as demonstrations spread to a new area of the city, ratcheting up pressure on the pro-Beijing government.

Protesters sit under umbrellas at a main street at Mongkok shopping district after thousand of protesters blocked the road in Hong Kong October 1, 2014.  REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

There was little sign of momentum flagging on the fifth day of the student-led protest, whose aim has been to occupy sections of the city, including around the Central financial district, in anger at a Chinese decision to limit voters’ choices in a 2017 leadership election.

Many had feared police would use force to move crowds before Wednesday’s start to celebrations marking the anniversary of the Communist Party’s foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Those fears proved unfounded.

The crowds have brought large sections of the Asian financial hub to a standstill, disrupting businesses from banks to jewelers. There were no reports of trouble by mid-afternoon on Wednesday, but witnesses said the number of protesters was swelling.

Riot police used tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges at the weekend to try to quell the unrest but tensions have eased since then as both sides appeared prepared to wait it out, at least for now.

Protests spread from four main areas to Tsim Sha Tsui, a shopping area popular with mainland Chinese visitors on the other side of the harbor. It would usually do roaring trade during the annual National Day holiday.

Underlining nervousness among some activists that provocation on National Day could spark violence, protest leaders urged crowds not to disturb the flag-raising ceremony on the Victoria Harbour waterfront.

Proceedings went ahead peacefully, although scores of students who ringed the ceremony at Bauhinia Square overlooking the harbor booed as the national anthem was played.

via Hong Kong democracy protesters and officials mark uneasy National Day | Reuters.

07/04/2014

Two Visions for India’s Economy, Sort Of – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s national election, which kicked off Monday, is a contest of old-fashioned socialism versus market liberalism, of handouts to the poor versus pro-growth reforms that will benefit all. Right?

Sort of. At least judging by the two main contenders’ official platforms.

The Bharatiya Janata Party — out of power for a decade — looks set to win big this year, helped by its popular prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who promises to reboot India’s economy with a combination of smart policy and able administration.

But now that the BJP has at last released its election manifesto after multiple delays, it’s easier to see where exactly its economic policy ideas differ from the incumbent Congress party’s – and, perhaps more interestingly, where they don’t.

Both parties promise to revitalize India’s manufacturing sector, long a laggard amid the country’s economic rise. Both say they will implement a national goods and services tax, known elsewhere as a value-added tax. Both want to create a “single-window system” to expedite land, environmental, power and other approvals for investors. Both back the current system of food subsidies, though the BJP highlights that the program should be efficient and corruption-free.

And both parties want to build high-speed rail, stem inflation, modernize infrastructure, make housing affordable, create jobs, expand cities and make taxation more predictable. (Though the BJP wins style points for referring to retroactive taxes as “tax terrorism.”) The BJP even matches the splashiest item in Congress’s manifesto — a commitment to providing “universal and quality health care for all Indians” — with its own call for universal health care.

All of that said, the manifestos alone do give the BJP an edge in terms of structural reforms that many economists, businesses and investors have long craved from India’s government.

The party’s manifesto speaks of addressing “over-regulation” in business and “bottlenecks” in the delivery of public services. Its section on developing agriculture focuses more on investing in productivity-enhancing technology than on increasing government subsidies, which the Congress manifesto notes as a major achievement of its decade in office.

The BJP says it will “rationalize and simplify the tax regime,” which the party calls “currently repulsive for honest taxpayers.” The Congress manifesto merely reiterates its support for the Direct Tax Code, an earlier legislative effort to eliminate tax distortions and improve compliance that has stalled in Parliament’s lower house.

The BJP also says it will review India’s creaking labor laws, which it decries as “outdated, complicated and even contradictory.” The Congress manifesto, meanwhile, “recognizes the need for creating flexibilities in the labor market” while redoubling its commitment to “protecting the interests of labor through more progressive labor laws.” The World Bank said in a report last year that India’s “cumbersome and complex” labor policies “have unambiguously negative effects on economic efficiency.”

via Two Visions for India’s Economy, Sort Of – India Real Time – WSJ.

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07/04/2014

Facts and figures for India’s 2014 general election | India Insight

Voting in the 2014 election begins on April 7. More than 814 million people — a number larger than the population of Europe — will be eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.

Voting will be held in nine stages, which will be staggered until May 12, and results are due to be announced on May 16. Elections to state assemblies in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will be held simultaneously.

Around 930,000 polling stations will be set up for the month-long election using electronic voting machines, first introduced in 2004.

Uttar Pradesh has the most eligible voters (134 million); Sikkim the lowest (about 362,000). Male voters constitute 52.4 percent of the electorate but women voters outnumber men in eight regions — Puducherry, Kerala, Manipur, Mizoram, Daman & Diu, Meghalaya, Goa and Arunachal Pradesh.

About 23 million eligible voters have been enrolled in the 18 to 19 age group, nearly 3 percent of India’s voters.

Of India’s 814.5 million eligible voters, 28,314 identify themselves as transgender and their gender is listed as “other”. There are 11,844 non-resident Indians registered to vote in the election this year.

Since introducing photo voter ID cards and electoral rolls in 2009, 98 percent of India’s eligible voters have the former, 96 percent have the latter.

Electronic voting machine security includes: transported under armed escort and stored in strong rooms, with a double lock system and guarded 24×7 by armed police, and CCTV coverage. Also, parties/candidates allowed to keep a watch on them.

Nearly 10 million officials (including police for security) will be deployed.

Uttar Pradesh has the most Lok Sabha seats (80) while the states of Nagaland, Sikkim, Mizoram and the union territories have one seat each.

A candidate can spend up to 7 million rupees ($116,350) for his election campaign in Delhi and all states except Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Sikkim. For these states and other union territories, the limit is 5.4 million rupees ($90,000).

A candidate for the Lok Sabha makes a deposit of 25,000 rupees ($415) at the time of filing the nomination. If the candidate fails to get a sixth of the total valid votes polled, this amount is forfeited. Nearly 85 percent of the candidates lost their security deposit in the 2009 election.

In the 15th Lok Sabha, around 78 percent of the members have a graduate, post-graduate degree or a doctorate.

Malkajgiri in Andhra Pradesh is the biggest Indian constituency in terms of voters with around 2.95 million electors; Lakshadweep is the smallest with 47,972 voters. In Lower Dibang Valley district of Arunachal Pradesh, Hukani polling station has 22 registered voters. Officials travel 22 km on foot to get there.

In the 2009 election, 363 political parties took part. The Bahujan Samaj Party contested the maximum number of seats (500 out of 543), followed by the Congress (440) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (433).

The last general election had a voter turnout of over 58 percent. Nagaland (89.99 percent) had the highest turnout while Jammu & Kashmir (39.68 percent) saw the lowest.

Namo Narain of the Congress party beat his BJP rival by 317 votes in Rajasthan’s Tonk Sawai Madhopur constituency — the smallest margin of victory in the 2009 election.

“Basic Minimum Facilities” for polling stations include drinking water, shed, toilet, ramp for disabled voters.

Voters will have a “None of the Above” option on voting machines.

The indelible election ink that is applied while electors cast their votes is manufactured by Mysore Paints & Varnish Limited, a Karnataka government undertaking.

Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged as the favourite in opinion polls, which reflect waning support for Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party that wrested power from the BJP in 2004.

Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, will also be challenged by a clutch of regional parties that are vying for power as part of a “third front” opposed to both the Congress and the BJP.

Also in the race is Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, which made a stunning debut in Delhi elections last year and is now eyeing a national presence on the anti-corruption plank.

via Facts and figures for India’s 2014 general election | India Insight.

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13/09/2013

Modi all set to be anointed BJP PM candidate

The Hindu: “BJP was all set on Friday to declare Narendra Modi as the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate after hectic parleys by senior leaders to convince L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi to give up their opposition to him.

Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP election campaign committee chief Narendra Modi during his visit to Hyderabad recently. File photo: P.V. Sivakumar

BJP Parliamentary Board will meet at 5:30 p.m. at the party headquarters in New Delhi, it was announced.

While Mr. Joshi is said to have been won over, last minute efforts were on to bring around Mr. Advani and Ms. Swaraj.

The decision to convene the panel meeting came after Mr. Rajnath Singh held a meeting with Mr. Advani.

Earlier, BJP leader Nitin Gadkari met party president Mr. Rajnath Singh to discuss the issue. Later, Mr. Gadkari met Mr. Advani to persuade him on Mr. Modi’s name. Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Ananth Kumar also joined the meeting.

Mr. Advani had conveyed his reservations about announcing Mr. Modi’s name at this juncture. He had suggested that the BJP chief ministers should be consulted on the issue and the party should wait till the forthcoming Assembly elections to Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi are over.

The BJP patriarch is of the view that making Modi the Prime Ministerial candidate will put issues like price rise and corruption — on which the BJP has attacked the Congress — on the backburner and make the controversial leader the issue, party sources said.

The sources indicated that the BJP leaders want a unanimous decision on Mr. Modi at the Parliamentary Board meeting and hence had intensified efforts to win over dissenting voices.

Mr. Joshi was asked to return to the capital by a special flight from Sagar, Madhya Pradesh where he had gone to attend a party programme. Though he is not convinced about Mr. Modi being projected as the Prime Ministerial candidate, he has conveyed to the party that he will abide by the majority view in the Parliamentary Board, the sources said.

Mr. Modi got a shot in the arm on Friday when NDA allies Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal extended their support to him for the Prime Ministerial candidate post.”

via Modi all set to be anointed BJP PM candidate – The Hindu.

See also: https://chindia-alert.org/political-factors/recent-indian-politics/

23/05/2013

* Conservatives counter demands for constitutional rule in China

It seems the ‘gloves are off’ – conservatives versus the President: see last para of this article.

SCMP: “Chinese conservatives have come out to argue against the adoption of “constitutional rule”, a term increasingly used by liberals to demand the realisation of basic human rights guaranteed in the Chinese constitution.

china_housing_xhg104_5351411.jpg

The nationalistic Global Times in an editorial on Wednesday called such demands “empty political slogans” made by “a group of misled intellectuals”.

These intellectuals wanted to “change China’s course of development”, the paper argued.

“If the entire Western world together can’t muster the might [to change China’s course], then a small group of domestic dissenters will be even less able to do so.”

Even though the Chinese constitution in theory guarantees freedom of speech, the press and to demonstrate, and the right to elect and be elected, human rights organisations say such rights are consistently cracked down upon.

Many lament that courts cannot invoke the constitution to protect the civil and political rights of citizens. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has attempted to cite rights guaranteed in the constitution in his trial for “inciting subversion of state power” that led to an 11-year prison sentence in 2009.

When the liberal Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Weekly called for a realisation of a “constitutional dream” in its traditional New Years editorial in January, censors replaced the text with a more muted version, triggering a rare public strike by journalists.

Democracy activists are often seen holding placards with the Chinese characters for “constitutional rule” in photos shared on microblogs.

The editorial in the Global Times, which ranks among the most widely read dailies in China, comes a day after a Beijing law scholar Yang Xiaoqing wrote an article with similar reasoning for the Communist Party’s bi-weekly Red Flag Magazine.

Citing Marx and Engels, the Renmin University professor repudiated what she called the “old Western” understanding of constitutional rule as an oppressive tool of the – in Marxian terms – capitalist stage of development.

Those with capital use the constitution’s allure to trick those who have nothing into believing that they lived in a fair system, she argued in ideologically orthodox terms. Citing Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, she predicted chaos for China if the country were ever to come under constituional rule.

In contrast to that chaos, Yang offers a vision of a “Chinese contribution to humanity in regards to constitutional rule” in which China’s People’s Congresses under the leadership of the Communist Party are truly representative of the nation’s people and are able to supervise the judiciary.

While a few people supported her comments, they have predominantely been mocked on microblogs, with thousands of people sharing her photo. Lei Yi, a Beijing-based historian, sarcastically wrote in a microblog post that he was reminded of Stalin and Pol Pot.

President Xi Jinping has repeatedly called for more respect of the constitution since he assumed the leadership of the Communist Party in autumn. “No organisation or individual should be put above the constitution and the law,” he reportedly said at a Politburo seminar in February.”

via Conservatives counter demands for constitutional rule in China | South China Morning Post.

03/03/2013

* China village Shangpu defies officials to demand democracy

SCMP: “Villagers in southern China were locked in a standoff with authorities on Sunday and were demanding democratic polls after a violent clash with thugs linked to a local official over a land transfer.

china-rights-politics-corruption_sha194.jpg

Just over a week ago, residents of Shangpu in Guangdong province fought with scores of attackers whom they claimed were sent by the village Communist Party chief and a business tycoon after they protested against a land deal.

Now police are blockading the settlement to outsiders while residents refuse to let officials inside, days before the annual meeting of the country’s legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC).

The situation recalls a similar episode in Wukan, also in Guangdong and around 100 kilometres from Shangpu, which made headlines worldwide 15 months ago.

At the main entrance of the village of 3,000 people, 40 police and officials stood guard, barring outside vehicles from entering. Not far away, a cloth banner read: “Strongly request legal, democratic elections.”

Shangpu’s two-storey houses, typical of the region, and low-slung family-run workshops are surrounded by fields awaiting spring planting. But the main street is lined with the wrecks of cars damaged in the clash, with glass and metal littering the ground.”

via China village Shangpu defies officials to demand democracy | South China Morning Post.

15/02/2013

* 5 Ways China Could Become a Democracy

Most thoughtful and provocative article.  Reads very plausible too. Which of the five outcomes come true?

The Diplomat: “Few have seriously thought about the probability and the various plausible scenarios of a regime transition in China — until now.

Speculating about China’s possible political futures is an intellectual activity that intrigues some and puzzles many.  The conventional wisdom is that the entrenched Chinese Communist Party (CCP), so determined to defend and perpetuate its political monopoly, has the means to survive for an extended period (though not forever).  A minority view, however, holds that the CCP’s days are numbered.  In fact, a transition to democracy in China in the next 10 to 15 years is a high probability event.   What stands behind this optimistic view about China’s democratic future is accumulated international and historical experience in democratic transitions (roughly 80 countries have made the transition from authoritarian rule to varying forms and degrees of democracy in the past 40 years) and decades of social science research that has yielded important insights into the dynamics of democratic transition and authoritarian decay (the two closely linked processes).

To be sure, those believing that China’s one-party regime still has enough resilience to endure decades of rule can point to the CCP’s proven and enormous capacity for repression (the most critical factor in the survival of autocracies), its ability to adapt to socioeconomic changes (although the degree of its adaptability is a subject of scholarly contention), and its track record of delivering economic improvement as a source of legitimacy.

To this list of reasons why the Chinese people should resign themselves to decades of one-party rule will be a set of factors singled out by proponents of the theory of predictable regime change in China.  Among many of the causes of the decline and collapse of authoritarian rule, two stand out.

First, there is the logic of authoritarian decay.  One-party regimes, however sophisticated, suffer from organizational ageing and decay.  Leaders get progressively weaker (in terms of capabilities and ideological commitment); such regimes tend to attract careerists and opportunists who view their role in the regime from the perspective of an investor: they want to maximize their returns from their contribution to the regime’s maintenance and survival.  The result is escalating corruption, deteriorating governance, and growing alienation of the masses.  Empirically, the organizational decay of one-party regime can be measured by the limited longevity of such regimes.  To date, the record longevity of a one-party regime is 74 years (held by the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union).  One-party regimes in Mexico and Taiwan remained in power for 71 and 73 years respectively (although in the case of Taiwan, the accounting is complicated by the Kuomintang’s military defeat on the mainland).   Moreover, all of the three longest-ruling one-party regimes began to experience system-threatening crisis roughly a decade before they exited political power.  If the same historical experience should be repeated in China, where the Communist Party has ruled for 63 years, we may reasonably speculate that the probability of a regime transition is both real and high in the coming 10-15 years, when the CCP will reach the upper-limit of the longevity of one-party regimes.

Second, the effects of socioeconomic change –rising literacy, income, and urbanization rates, along with the improvement of communications technologies — greatly reduce the costs of collective action, de-legitimize autocratic rule, and foster demands for greater democracy.  As a result, authoritarian regimes, which have a relatively easy time ruling poor and agrarian societies, find it increasingly difficult and ultimately impossible to maintain their rule once socioeconomic development reaches a certain level.  Statistical analysis shows that authoritarian regimes become progressively more unstable (and democratic transitions more likely) once income rises above $1,000 (PPP) per capita.  When per capita income goes above $4,000 (PPP), the likelihood of democratic transitions increases more dramatically.  Few authoritarian regimes, unless they rule in oil-producing countries, can survive once per capita income hits more than $6,000 (PPP).  If we apply this observation and take into account the probable effect of inflation (although the above PPP figures were calculated in constant terms), we will find that China is well into this “zone of democratic transition” because its per capita income is around $9,100 (PPP) today, comparable to the income level of South Korea and Taiwan in the mid-1980s on the eve of their democratic transitions.  In another 10-15 years, its per capita income could exceed $15,000 and its urbanization rate will have risen to 60-65 percent.  If the CCP has such a tough time today (in terms of deploying its manpower and financial resources) to maintain its rule, just imagine how impossible the task will become in 10-15 years’ time.”

If this analysis is convincing enough for us to entertain the strong possibility of a democratic transition in China in the coming 10-15 years, the more interesting follow-up question is definitely “how will such a transition happen?”

Again, based on the rich experience of democratic transitions since the 1970s, there are five ways China could become democratic:

“Happy ending” would be the most preferable mode of democratic transition for China. Typically, a peaceful exit from power managed by the ruling elites of the old regime goes through several stages.  It starts with the emergence of a legitimacy crisis, which may be caused by many factors (such as poor economic performance, military defeat, rising popular resistance, unbearable costs of repression, and endemic corruption).  Recognition of such a crisis convinces some leaders of the regime that the days of authoritarian rule are numbered and they should start managing a graceful withdrawal from power.  If such leaders gain political dominance inside the regime, they start a process of liberalization by freeing the media and loosening control over civil society.  Then they negotiate with opposition leaders to set the rules of the post-transition political system.  Most critically, such negotiations center on the protection of the ruling elites of the old regime who have committed human rights abuses and the preservation of the privileges of the state institutions that have supported the old regime (such as the military and the secret police).  Once such negotiations are concluded, elections are held.  In most cases (Taiwan and Spain being the exceptions), parties representing the old regime lose such elections, thus ushering in a new democratic era. At the moment, the transition in Burma is unfolding according to this script.

But for China, the probability of such a happy ending hinges on, among other things, whether the ruling elites start reform before the old regime suffers irreparable loss of legitimacy.  The historical record of peaceful transition from post-totalitarian regimes is abysmal mainly because such regimes resist reform until it is too late.  Successful cases of “happy ending” transitions, such as those in Taiwan, Mexico, and Brazil, took place because the old regime still maintained sufficient political strength and some degree of support from key social groups.  So the sooner the ruling elites start this process, the greater their chances of success.  The paradox, however, is that regimes that are strong enough are unwilling to reform and regimes that are weak cannot reform.  In the Chinese case, the odds of a soft landing are likely to be determined by what China’s new leadership does in the coming five years because the window of opportunity for a political soft landing will not remain open forever.

“Gorby comes to China” is a variation of the “happy ending” scenario with a nasty twist.  In such a scenario, China’s leadership misses the historic opportunity to start the reform now.  But in the coming decade, a convergence of unfavorable economic, social, and political trends (such as falling economic growth due to demographic ageing, environmental decay, crony-capitalism, inequality, corruption and rising social unrest) finally forces the regime to face reality. Hardliners are discredited and replaced by reformers who, like Gorbachev, start a Chinese version of glasnost and perestroika.  But the regime by that time has lost total credibility and political support from key social groups.  Liberalization triggers mass political mobilization and radicalism.  Members of the old regime start to defect – either to the opposition or their safe havens in Southern California or Switzerland.  Amid political chaos, the regime suffers another internal split, similar to that between Boris Yeltsin and Gorbachev, with the rise of a radical democratizer replacing a moderate reformer.  With their enormous popular support, the dominant political opposition, including many defectors from the old regime, refuses to offer concessions to the Communist Party since it is now literally in no position to negotiate.  The party’s rule collapses, either as a result of elections that boot its loyalists out of power or spontaneous seizure of power by the opposition.

Should such a scenario occur in China, it would be the most ironic.  For the last twenty years, the Communist Party has tried everything to avert a Soviet-style collapse.  If the “Gorby  scenario” is the one that brings democracy to China, it means the party has obviously learned the wrong lesson from the Soviet collapse.

“Tiananmen redux” is a third possibility.  Such a scenario can unfold when the party continues to resist reform even amid signs of political radicalization and polarization in society.  The same factors that contribute to the “Gorby scenario” will be at play here, except that the trigger of the collapse is not a belated move toward liberalization by reformers inside the regime, but by an unanticipated mass revolt that mobilizes a wide range of social groups nationwide, as happened during Tiananmen in 1989.  The manifestations of such a political revolution will be identical with those seen in the heady days of the pro-democracy Tiananmen protest and the “Jasmine Revolution” in the Middle East.  In the Chinese case, “Tiananmen redux” produces a different political outcome mainly because the China military refuses to intervene again to save the party (in most cases of crisis-induced transitions since the 1970s, the military abandoned the autocratic rulers at the most critical moment).

“Financial meltdown” – our fourth scenario – can initiate a democratic transition in China in the same way the East Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 led to the collapse of Suharto in Indonesia.   The Chinese bank-based financial system shares many characteristics with the Suharto-era Indonesian banking system: politicization, cronyism, corruption, poor regulation, and weak risk management.   It is a well-known fact today that the Chinese financial system has accumulated huge non-performing loans and may be technically insolvent if these loans are recognized.  In addition, off-balance sheet activities through theshadow-banking system have mushroomed in recent years, adding more risks to financial stability.  As China’s capacity to maintain capital control erodes because of the proliferation of methods to move money in and out of China, the probability of a financial meltdown increases further.  To make matters worse, premature capital account liberalization by China could facilitate capital flight in times of a systemic financial crisis.   Should China’s financial sector suffer a meltdown, the economy would grind to a halt and social unrest could become uncontrollable.  If the security forces fail to restore order and the military refuse to bail out the party, the party could lose power amid chaos.  The probability of a collapse induced by a financial meltdown alone is relatively low.  But even if the party should survive the immediate aftermath of a financial meltdown, the economic toll exacted on China will most likely damage its economic performance to such an extent as to generate knock-on effects that eventually delegitimize the party’s authority.

“Environmental collapse” is our last regime change scenario.  Given the salience of environmental decay in China these days, the probability of a regime change induced by environmental collapse is not trivial.  The feed-back loop linking environmental collapse to regime change is complicated but not impossible to conceive.  Obviously, the economic costs of environmental collapse will be substantial, in terms of healthcare, lost productivity, water shortage, and physical damages.Growth could stall, undermining the CCP’s legitimacy and control. Environmental collapse in China has already started to alienate the urban middle-class from the regime and triggered growing social protest.  Environmental activism can become a political force linking different social groups together in a common cause against a one-party regime seen as insensitive, unresponsive, and incompetent on environmental issues. The severe degradation of the environment in China also means that the probability of a catastrophic environmental disaster – a massive toxic spill, record drought, or extended period of poisonous smog– could trigger a mass protest incident that opens the door for the rapid political mobilization of the opposition.

The take-away from this intellectual exercise should be sobering, both for the CCP and the international community.  To date, few have seriously thought about the probability and the various plausible scenarios of a regime transition in China.  As we go through the likely causes and scenarios of such a transition, it should become blindingly clear that we need to start thinking about both the unthinkable and the inevitable.”

via 5 Ways China Could Become a Democracy.

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