Can a political system be democratically legitimate without being democratic?
Date: May 29, 2015
By: Daniel A. Bell
The flaws in China’s political system are obvious. The government doesn’t even make a pretense of holding national elections and punishes those who openly call for multiparty rule. The press is heavily censored and the Internet is blocked. Top leaders are unconstrained by the rule of law. Even more worrisome, repression has been ramped up since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, suggesting that the regime is increasingly worried about its legitimacy.
Some China experts—most recently David Shambaugh of George Washington University—interpret these ominous signs as evidence that the Chinese political system is on the verge of collapse. But such an outcome is highly unlikely in the near future. The Communist Party is firmly in power, its top leader is popular, and no political alternative currently claims widespread support. And what would happen if the Party’s power did indeed crumble? The most likely result, in my view, would be rule by a populist strongman backed by elements of the country’s security and military forces. The new ruler might seek to buttress his legitimacy by launching military adventures abroad. President Xi would look tame by comparison.
A more realistic and, arguably, desirable outcome would involve political change that builds on the advantages of the current system. But what exactly are the good parts of the Chinese political model? And how can they be advanced without repression? I believe the model can be improved in a more open political environment and, eventually, put before the people in a popular referendum. [FULL STORY]