Sunday, 7 October 2012

National Conversation is an “Inner-party Democracy”?

“Inner-party Democracy” (党内民主) - Maybe we can learn from the Chinese Communist Party and understand how they do it. This was suggested by Prof. Su Guaning who was the moderator of the Mandarin Symposium “China’s Future: Transition or Transformation?”

What is “Inner-party Democracy”? 
The inner-party democracy is the wishes of the party members and party organizations, advocates fully express the enthusiasm and creativity into full play. The four parts of the inner-party democracy: democratic elections, democratic decision-making, democratic management and democratic supervision. All party members of the Communist Party of China, regardless of position, are entitled to the rights of the Party Constitution and should fulfill its obligations; party's leading organs at all levels should be elected; Party committees at all levels to implement the collective leadership and individual responsibility combined system; within the party discussed and decided to implement the principle of majority rules; party members the right to know and the right to directly participate in party affairs. #

In his follow-up remark to Prof Meng Qingguo’s “Inner-party Democracy” as a new political reform of democratic process or transformation in China after economic and social transformation in China since 1979, Prof Su gave this suggestion.

Prof Su commented that like China, in Singapore, we also had a strong one-party government and maybe we can learn from them the way of “Inner-party Democracy”.  He said Singapore also faced the same problem of transition or transformation for our future. So, there is a need to learn from others.

Perhaps, Prof Su thought he was in China and the audience was Chinese.  In some way, the symposium was like a Chinese symposium held in China as the questions raised were very ‘China centric’ and the questions, that Chinese residents here asked, were mainly regarding issues in their home country.   

The suggestion of “Inner-party Democracy” makes me thinking of National Conversation immediately. Does it look like a ““Inner-party Democracy within the PAP”? 

The PAP leadership now extends more opportunities to their members, associates, and concerned parties through National Conversation – giving them the chances to air their views openly and showcasing a ‘wayang’ of “Inner-party Democracy”.

Does it mean there is no “Inner-party Democracy inside the PAP” in the past? Now with the National Conversation, it provides a new channel for PAP members to air their views and opinions – to show and exercise their democratic right as party members.  

Singapore has been a democratic country since independence.  Our Constitution and National Pledge have never ever mentioned a word a one-party state, let alone a PAP state. (Correct me if I am wrong)

It is so sad and disappointed that Prof Su, being a senior educator, being a former president of NTU - one of the top 100 universities in world, giving such a remark to an audience of more than 400 at NTUC Auditorium on 5 Oct.

We have a multi-party political system even though it is not fully exercised.  The framework is there. If we select “Inner-party Democracy”, we are going back in history and moving backward to an undemocratic and authoritarian state.  While the case of China is different, after economic and social reform, there are needs for some kinds of political changes and reforms. “Inner-party Democracy” to them may be a step forward but to Singapore it is a step backward.

From Prof Su’s point of view, we can imagine the type of education, especially university education that we are giving to our youths. No wonder, even the most liberal college – Yale-NUS can only allow political discussion within the campus that clearly shows and proves the “Inner-college Democracy”.

Weibo, Social Media not public opinion

Prof Su has another interesting observation that is in line with the PAP and is ‘political correct’ in Singapore. Referring to his reading about a book on Chinese history, especially the greater trends in history, he asked the panel of speakers why the Chinese government was so serious about the weibo (similar to twitter) and in his view, weibo (微博) is not a representation of public opinion (民意).

Similarly in Singapore, the PAP government has always told (and warned) citizens the credibility and reliability of social media. They always praise and stress the trust and reliability of mainstream media. However, they cannot stop the widespread and wide ‘reach’ of social media. 

Perhaps, the Chinese government sees weibo as another “Inner-party Democracy”.  Hence, they have to response and answer to the happenings in the social media, even sometimes there are incorrect or wrong information.  They also have to clarify rather than like Singapore ‘we do not answer to rumor’.  Because there are so many rumours in China, “Inner-party Democracy” in some ways can help to prevent more rumours from spreading among CCP members.

Investment return on attending the symposium

In her opening remark, Low Yen Ling, CEO of Business China (also a PAP MP), gave a very typical cost-benefit analysis of attending the symposium.  She said participants, who spent a Friday afternoon, some even forgoing their time with family, would have a handsome return by attending the symposium.

She wanted to stress the value and worth of the symposium but like typical PAP analysis, she had to emphasize the word ‘investment return’. The PAP government thinks too much about financial figure, so do their MPs and members.

But money, investment and value are not always equal and it is even more difficult to measure worth and value using return on investment analysis.


Business China aims to teach and share knowledge with Singaporeans.  However, it also needs to present a right protocol to Singaporeans.  Otherwise, they may end up wondering why a good negotiation throughout meeting still results to no deal concluded.

At the end of the symposium, Low was to present souvenirs to 3 speakers from Tsinghua University.  Without the help of MC or other assistant, the first to receive the gift is the most junior among the three.  It is important we get the protocol right.  Even for the not so calculative western world, this protocol still needs to maintain and observe. 

The westerners may still award the contract to someone who is ‘not so protocol’.  But for the Chinese, this is clearly ‘not behaving like a human being.’ (不会做人)

It is a case of good start not equal to good ending. Doing business in China has its protocol, so do other places.  A small detail makes a big difference. In chapter 64 of Laozi, we learn about good start and good end:

Amateurs often fail at the verge of success.Be focused in the end as in the beginning,Then there will be no failure.

The symposium never gave a clear answer on “China’s Future: Transition or Transformation?”.  This is a complicated question and we may need a fortune teller to make the forecast.

And really, will “Inner-party Democracy” help the CCP and China to maintain a sustainable growth?  


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