SINOGRAPH Bo Xilai focuses
multiparty vision By Francesco
BEIJING - Are these buds of
multiparty democracy in China? Is it democracy
with Chinese characteristics or just intra-party
democracy? It's a new shape to the old power
struggle for sure - but what is it really? It is
certainly a new action in ossified Chinese
politics, and a development that's taking place on
the eve of a historical party congress, one where,
for the first time, there is no one single elderly
leader to choose his successors.
what Bo Xilai, the 61-year-old party secretary of
Chongqing, a sprawling city of 30 million people,
is doing is changing the rules of the political
game in China. As soon as he went to the city in
2008, he broke the traditional succession truce
with his predecessor, Wang Yang, and launched an
unprecedented anti-mafia campaign. It was
something that Beijing
people saw as an insult to
Wang, a fellow Politburo member who was moved to
head the Guangdong party. Why had Wang tolerated
the mafia when Bo would not? Was it really the
mafia, or was it something else?
brushed up on Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)
songs and dances to inspire the common people with
renewed idealistic ardor, obscuring the fact that
during that period he had been imprisoned just
because his father, Bo Yibo, was branded a ''black
It was a line he started on its
own and that actually perplexed Beijing leaders,
uncertain about what to think of this local
campaign: whether to approve it and allow it to
spread nationwide, or censor it and thus expose
the rift in the party's allegedly unified
propaganda policy. In either case, Bo had set the
agenda, and Beijing was on the defensive. Thus
Beijing astutely decided to simply ignore it.
This did not extinguish Bo's fire.
More importantly, Bo started to enlist
intellectuals to work on his Chongqing project.
There was nothing wrong with this - but nothing
too right either. In fact, aren't virtually all
Chinese intellectuals on the payroll of the one
Chinese Communist Party? Yet, some intellectuals
became especially affiliated with Chongqing and
Bo's project. Why should their particular
affiliation with Chongqing matter?
matters, then we are seeing the birth of
conflicting interests in China: Bo against the
others. But who are the others? Some conflicting
interests in China are out in the open: rival
companies competing for market share or provinces
competing for resources and attention from abroad
But this is no longer a
classic power struggle; it is something new. There
are opposing lines with opposing think-tanks.
Translated into Western words - just as the
Chinese jargon ''market economy'' is known as
''capitalism'' in the rest of the world - there
are parties within the party. It may be a matter
of time before this becomes formalized. Crushing
it seems very difficult, although it might not be
What we see with Bo is no
petty experiment of a village election involving a
few hundred voters; it is a top Chinese leader
campaigning for a top government position in the
2012 congress. After he sets the example, others
could follow it and campaign in the same manner.
Formalization of the opposing lines or of those
campaigns could be just a matter of time.
Parties in the West are not abstract
ideas. They were born out of the stratification of
interest groups that then coalesced in a political
formation. This political entity ''party'' comes
from the word ''part",' meaning this is a part of
the whole national interest that finds it
convenient to express itself through a formal
instrument. The formation of parties in a
political context responds to a practical idea. In
a market economy, there are competing interests.
If the rules of competition are not clear, there
is a lot of room for dirty tricks that pollute
social life and also economic life as market
competition loses its fairness and thus its
effectiveness. This is something in turn affecting
overall economic performance.
already see the beginning of this loss of market
fairness in China as large, mighty, state-owned
enterprises squeeze more effective yet less
powerful private companies at the fringes of the
market and as richer eastern provinces block the
light from backwards western provinces.
then is just naturally responding to this: he
wants more of the limelight for Chongqing, for his
projects, and thus for himself. The issue is, will
this type of campaign be formalized in the future?
If it is not, it can become very messy, full of
backstabbing plots, conspiracies or suspicions of
conspiracies, and something that can be
potentially paralyzing for China's already
cumbersome political life.
If it is
formalized, in one way or another, it is a green
light on the route to multiparty democracy in
China, something that, incidentally, also surfaced
during the Cultural Revolution, as many future
Chinese leaders of Bo's generation will remember -
they were former Red Guards.
Yet, the song
said it: ''the future is not ours to see". Bo's
bold move may be also forgotten, and these sprouts
may be uprooted. Then China will have a bigger
problem with state enterprises battling with each
other and with weaker companies without rules or
clear political umbrellas. It is an unsettling
future of chaos - something that Chinese leaders
usually disdain. Therefore the die of political
reform seems cast. It is not clear how it will
roll, if it will give us a 1 or a 6, but it is
already a whole new political game in China. Then,
que sera sera.
is the Asia Editor of La Stampa. His e-mail is