China’s one-party system has a surprising number of parties

HOW many parties does it take to run a one-party state? Although the Communist Party is in sole charge, China also has eight other legally registered ones. It calls this a system of “multiparty co-operation”, which involves “sharing weal or woe”. The role of the non-Communist groups is to add a veneer of democracy. Ordinary people dismiss them as “flower vases”—pure decoration.

On March 1st Luo Fuhe, a senior leader of one such misleadingly named party, the Chinese Association for Promoting Democracy, challenged that description. He told reporters that his party had a proposal to make. Amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent, it was a remarkable one. Mr Luo said China’s “strict” controls on the internet should be relaxed to avoid hampering the country’s scientific and economic development. Rarely has a prominent member of the establishment taken such aim at China’s “great firewall”, which blocks access to many foreign websites (including this newspaper’s). Even more strikingly, some official newspapers reported his views. The delight of China’s long-suffering netizens was palpable.

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