Kyrgyzstan Lessons

China's dissident elder statesman sees something to learn from a neighboring republic.
Email story
Comment on this story
Print story
Bao Tong during an interview at his home in Beijing, April 27, 2009.
Bao Tong during an interview at his home in Beijing, April 27, 2009.

HONG KONG—A former top Chinese official has warned the ruling Communist Party that its current political system is outdated, praising last weekend's constitutional referendum in neighboring Kyrgyzstan amid widespread violence in the south of the country.

In an essay written for the 89th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, Bao Tong, former aide to ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang, contrasted two recent items of news.

"One is that Kyrgyzstan has decided by referendum to become a democracy, bringing hope of long-term stability," Bao wrote from his Beijing home, where he has been held under house arrest since his release from a seven-year jail term following the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

"The people of Kyrgyzstan have produced a new election law, with some determination, on the basis of a nationwide referendum," he said.

"A people that does not fear a universal referendum will have nothing to fear from universal, direct elections. In their fearlessness, they have found a level road to long-term peace and stability."

More than 90 percent of voters in Kyrgyzstan supported the adoption of a new constitution in a referendum on Sunday, voting to give more powers to parliament and reduce those of the president.

The changes are an attempt to reintroduce political stability in a country which has been rocked by violence since the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April.

Chinese media

China's official state media has run fairly positive coverage of the referendum, reporting on continued support from the United Nations for the process, which may lead to parliamentary elections later this year.

"The adoption of a new constitution is an important step towards promoting the rule of law and establishing a legitimate, democratic elected government," the state-run news agency Xinhua quoted U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as saying.

Xinhua also reported remarks by Kyrgyz interim president Rosa Otunbayeva, who hailed the result as the beginning of "a true people's democracy," ending a system that was "authoritarian and familial."

The referendum took place after ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks forced over 400,000 Uzbeks to flee the country, and left hundreds of people dead.

In response, Bao's essay traced the methods used to transfer political power from one generation to the next throughout Chinese history.

He lashed out at the method of choosing "designated successors" as incumbent North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is apparently preparing to do, and as former supreme leader Mao Zedong failed to do throughout his political career.

"It is too risky and altogether too unstable to hand over the supreme power to govern a people to a nonsystem to decide," Bao said, adding that the 1911 Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen had "opened a new window" for the Chinese people.

"In a country that wanted to call itself a republic, the people were the ultimate masters," he wrote.

"And so the idea of full and direct elections was lodged deeply in people's minds ... This was a new principle."

'System without a system'

But with the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, tentative steps towards democratic elections were abandoned in favor of single-candidate elections, in which the candidate had been preselected by the leadership.

"One can see at a glance the indescribable genius of the single-candidate election," Bao wrote.

"It is quite simply that essence of our country's history—the system that was abandoned in favor of the traditional royal family, the system-without-a-system in which the keepers of power decide who will succeed to power."

Earlier this week, Chinese President Hu Jintao called on Party members to "play an exemplary role," amid continuing public anger over rampant corruption in their ranks, growing calls for political reform, and sweeping social changes.

China's Communist Party was founded on July 1, 1921.

Original essay in Mandarin by Bao Tong. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





More Listening Options

An error occurred while generating this part of the page. (log)
View Full Site