China Leadership Monitor

Pressures for Expanding Local-Level Democracy

Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has faced numerous pressures in recent years to reform its governing practices, particularly at the local level where these practices directly affect the lives of citizens. Despite years of campaigning against it, corruption continues to get worse at local levels, where abuse of power by officials has inflamed relations with the citizenry, and where there seems to be a palpable need to enhance the legitimacy of local officials. Village-level elections were introduced in China in the late 1980s to respond to these needs, but they also created new problems. Local party secretaries clashed regularly with village heads, and township cadres resented newly assertive village leaders. Moreover, the electoral process stalled as efforts to promote it at the township level met resistance. In recent months, however, there have been new and expanded experiments with local democracy that enhance the importance of local people's congresses, open up the electoral process, and use elections for the selection of local cadres. Importantly, these experiments are not limited to the village level, but are taking place at the township and sometimes county levels. These innovations may not augur looming democratization, but they do reflect a response to increased pressures to cope with the problems of local governance.