Top China reformer calls to rein in communist power

BEIJING - A top Communist Party reformer has called for reforms to rein in the unchecked power of China's ruling party as the only way to modernise the nation, on the eve of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

Hu Deping, son of former party head and reformer Hu Yaobang whose death in 1989 sparked the Tiananmen Square democracy protests, said the party needed to cast off the trappings of China's imperial past and advance constitutional governance.

His comments, carried in the current issue of the respected Economic Observer weekly newspaper, come as the party opens its 18th congress Thursday, ushering in a 10-yearly leadership transition that will see President Hu Jintao step down as party chief before he retires as president in March.

"There are too many times when power becomes bigger than the law, when the power of the party and government interferes with the judicial process," Hu, who is unrelated to Hu Jintao, wrote.

"The basic task of the Chinese Communist Party is to make continuous efforts to advance the establishment and implementation of socialist constitutional government ... this is also the demand of the times."

In his comments Hu, a leading reformist voice on China's top political advisory body, expressed the hopes for political reform of many party insiders, while also echoing the demands of dissidents and rights activists, many of whom have been jailed.

Hu said that 100 years after the Qing Dynasty, China's last imperial ruling house, the Communist Party continued to refuse real constitutional restraints with disastrous results to society and civil rights.

"In the times of an imperial monarchy, there is no constitutional law ... the emperor only needs to open his month and speak the will of heaven and the state," Hu said.

"The main reason for the disaster of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was because (those in power) ignored, cast aside and destroyed the authority of the constitution ... the constitution and law were nothing but empty documents.

"The existence of this kind of behaviour not only harms the healthy development of the state and violates the rights of the people, but also harms the ruling status of the Communist Party."

Hu's father, Hu Yaobang, played a major role in leading the party out of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, rehabilitating hundreds of officials who had been purged and initiated China's period of openness and reform.

He was dismissed as party head in 1987 for reportedly allowing students in Beijing to hold protest marches calling for democratic reforms. Those protests erupted again in 1989 after he died.

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