Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Don't praise the constitution

Why would those in power denigrate their own constitution? The answer tells who really runs things.

Climbing trees to catch fish
The People’s Republic of China, founded in 1949, is… on its fourth constitution. Yet… the official press has turned an academic debate about “constitutionalism” into a political campaign against the idea that every institution, ie, the party, should be subject to the constitution—an idea so preposterous, the People’s Daily argued in one of three front-page editorials this month, that it was “like climbing trees to catch fish”. The paper said that constitutionalism is a plot hatched by American intelligence agencies…

In its New Year’s Day edition… an intellectual journal, equated constitutionalism with political reform…. The journal’s website was taken offline for a few days. The same month, a liberal newspaper, Southern Weekend, was censored for advocating constitutionalism…

The constitution has much for liberals to like: equality; freedom of speech, assembly and religion; respect for human rights; the prohibition of arbitrary detention; an independent judiciary; and an elected National People’s Congress—“the highest organ of state power”. Of course, it doesn’t really work that way.

For a start, the all-powerful Communist Party is largely absent from the constitution…

The stridency of the tirades in the press suggests not all is sweetness among the leaders… One possibility is that Mr Xi and his allies are preparing a radical set of economic reforms… Stressing the primacy of the party and attacking abhorred liberalism in its latest disguise—constitutionalism—may help Mr Xi to push through his economic agenda over the objections of hardliners and interests threatened by reforms…

Deng Xiaoping and his successors, down to Mr Xi, have argued that to ensure that economic development does not lead to instability or chaos, strong party rule is more imperative than ever. For the People’s Daily, the Soviet Union’s collapse offers a salutary lesson: Mikhail Gorbachev “was thoroughly defeated because he used Western constitutionalism as a blueprint”…
See also: A fight for the soul of Chinese Communist Party.

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