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Open and shut on political change

world Updated: Mar 12, 2010 00:45 IST
Reshma Patil
Reshma Patil
Hindustan Times
National People’s Congress

On March 1, ahead of the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) that functions as the Chinese Parliament, 13 newspapers in 11 provinces published an identical editorial pressing for urgent reforms in the half-century-old household registration system that restricts social security rights for migrants in the cities.

“After this incident, I was punished accordingly; other colleagues and media partners also felt repercussions,’’ wrote the editorial’s co-author Zhang Hong, an editor at the Economic Observer Online, in a letter released this week after his exit.

The Wall Street Journal published an online English translation of the letter. “The editorial was the product of a few editors working behind closed doors, but the stir it created went beyond our initial expectations,’’ wrote Zhang.

The legislators have taken to microblogging from the session to connect with netizens, while dissidents are posting reports of casual police interrogations that step up during Beijing’s political season. Foreign journalists are being invited to Tibet to show off stability under tight security.

This year, a more confident China has made political restructuring a theme of the sessions as much as economic growth. Premier Wen Jiabao’s address promised ‘political restructuring’ and ‘socialist democratic politics’. Demolition laws are being sensitised and equal electoral representation is planned for rural and urban regions. Pension, healthcare, education, housing and narrowing the urban-rural income gap top the agenda.

“The party is telling the outside world that it will decide its own political development path and will not allow itself to be dictated to by outsiders,’’ Raviprasad Narayanan, a China watcher at the National Chengchi University in Taipei, told HT. “But the leadership realises that economic growth and social instability go hand in hand.’’

Last year, top legislator Wu Bangguo told the NPC ‘we will never simply copy the system of Western countries’. This time, Wu’s reference to political change was less strident: The standing committee...reached a thorough understanding of the essential differences between our country’s system of people’s congresses and western capitalist countries’ systems of political power’’.

An essential difference being internally debated is how to makeover the legislature’s rubberstamp image. As Zhang wrote: To put it bluntly, I’ve lived for 36 years, but never known which representatives were chosen by me, who are able to seek justice on my behalf’’.