Of course, the cadres are desperate to have their friends and foes abroad talking about anything but the bloody demise of the visible pro-democracy movement. So they're returning a tried-and-true canard, local "elections." As John Pomfret notes on his Washington Post blog:
There's been talk in the last year that the party is again interested in political reform. Citing a speech last December by China's president Hu Jintao, some experts have predicted that the party is interested in "intra-party" democracy first, meaning it's willing to experiment with letting party members vote in real elections for seats on powerful party committees that control townships and elsewhere. Like Buyun, there have been a few experiments. And like Buyun, Chinese officials have been talking them up to foreign friends.
Buyun was the township that became the first to hold local elections at that level in Communist China (villages, as Pomfret also notes, had had elections prior to that, but are also "not part of China's governing structure"). It just so happens that Buyun held their election in 1999 - makng 2009 the tenth anniversary of the first township election the CCP ever allowed.
This is where the CCP runs into trouble, again. While Buyun was the first township election, it was also close to the last. Moreover, as Pomfret details:
Then, after two smaller, less ambitious township votes, township elections were
halted. There were no public attacks on the votes in the state-run press; the results were allowed to stand. There were just no repeats.
What happened next, however, was curious and illustrative of how China - in some ways -- has grown wise in the ways of PR. Despite the fact that this type of experimentation was over, Chinese government officials kept talking up Buyun and other elections to foreign visitors, leaving prominent Americans with the impression that democratic reform was still very much on the table. After the Buyun election, I heard this kind of talk from Chinese officials routinely.
But the clearest example came when Premier Wen Jiabao hosted a delegation of Americans in October 2006. In a trip report by John Thornton, chairman of the board of the Brookings Institution, Wen was quoted as predicting that direct elections would move from the village level up to the townships, then counties, then even provinces.
The only trouble was that Hu was lying through his teeth (Pomfret again):
In an article that appeared on Aug. 30, 2006, in Seeking Truth, one of the most authoritative of the Party's publications, Sheng Huaren, secretary general of the Standing Committee of the NPC, stated that the direct elections of township leaders violated the constitution and that in upcoming elections such practices would be prohibited.
Of course, even without this obvious subterfuge, the "elections" were a sham. While village elections being common in some places, recent events in Taishi made it pretty clear that all the amenities that usually come with elections - real power, accountability to the voters, etc. - are non-existent in area under CCP control.
In other words, you can vote in village elections, run in village elections, and even win village elections, so long as you do the Party's bidding. Otherwise, your term in office is exchanged for a term in prison.
Thus, the Communists, in trying to make people forget how they responded to a national democratic movement with the barrel of a gun, have shifted attention to the times they responded to local democratic movements with, well, with the barrel of a gun. Clearly, the cadres still have a ways to go on PR.
More to the point, it is yet another reminder that for the Chinese Communist Party, nothing is more important than maintaining power - not good relations with its neighbors, not the export market of the United States, nothing. The sooner the leaders of the democratic world understand this, the sooner they will see through things like the "elections" charade, recognize the danger the CCP poses, and get on with the business of helping the Chinese people take their country back.