Dozens of mainland scholars and lawyers have urged the Communist Party’s new leaders to push ahead with modest political reform to avert a looming legitimacy crisis over one party rule and to avoid further political scandals like the downfall of disgraced Politburo member Bo Xilai.
Their petition, titled An Initiative on Reform Consensus and released on Tuesday, comes amid growing public expectations the leadership, which took power a little over a month ago, will launch substantial changes.
“China’s centuries-long history – especially the bitter lessons of the tumultuous Cultural Revolution – shows people will suffer and the country will be engulfed in social unrest and political upheaval whenever China goes against the tide of history that values democracy, the rule of law, human rights and constitutional government,” it said.
Analysts said the open letter, signed by 72 liberal intellectuals, including prominent legal scholars Jiang Ping and Zhang Sizhi , was like other petitions over the past decade which also called for moderate reforms under the party’s leadership.
But whereas in 2008 the Charter 08 manifesto made an unusually direct call for an end to single party rule and sweeping democratic reforms, the latest petition requests peaceful and rational changes within the existing legal framework.
Peking University law professor Zhang Qianfan , who drafted the petition, said it was aimed at building consensus on reform between the government and an increasingly impatient public. He said there was an urgent need to address problems faced by the country, such as social inequity, abuse of government power and corruption. “China runs the risk of revolution and chaos if it does not change,” Zhang said.
The authorities have shown zero tolerance to attempts to end one party rule and have jailed dissidents, such as lead author of the Charter 08 manifesto and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo , on subversion charges.
Liu Junning , a political scientist formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who signed Charter 08, said the petition was not bold enough. “I would not sign it because I don’t see any hopes for successful, meaningful reform that could be carried out under the existing political system.”
But Peking University professor He Weifang , who signed the latest petition, said consensus building was necessary for bolder reforms due to the deep-rooted divide between the people and government officials.
Another signatory, 85-year-old Zhang Sizhi , said the petition’s suggestions would not be unfamiliar to the leaders. “The question is whether they will take action or not. I can only hope so.”