Founder of new Chinese political party aims to work within system

In this photo taken on March 7, 2013 and released by Professor Wang Zheng, she poses for a photo in Guilin in south-western China's Guangxi autonomous region. Prof Wang, a supporter of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, said on Sunday, Nov 10, 20
In this photo taken on March 7, 2013 and released by Professor Wang Zheng, she poses for a photo in Guilin in south-western China's Guangxi autonomous region. Prof Wang, a supporter of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, said on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 she has set up a new political party and named the imprisoned former official its chairman, a move that poses personal risk for her but little threat to the Communist Party. -- FILE PHOTO: AP 

BEIJING (Reuters) - For someone who has just set up a new political party in the face of a de facto ban by a Chinese government that tolerates no dissent, Professor Wang Zheng has surprisingly modest aims.

Prof Wang and other supporters of disgraced senior politician Bo Xilai, who has been jailed for corruption, formed the China Zhi Xian Party - literally "the Constitution is the supreme authority" party - last week. It named Bo as "chairman for life".

The Communist Party has not allowed any opposition parties to be established since it came to power following the 1949 revolution. So history suggests it will not look kindly on this new party, especially when its titular head is a former member of the Communist Party's top ranks.

But Prof Wang, one of the party's founders, insisted in an interview that she is no anti-government revolutionary and is not challenging the Communist Party's right to govern, which she accepts is enshrined in the Constitution.

Instead, the Zhi Xian Party simply wants the government to guarantee freedom of assembly and elections.

"There are many important systems provided for in the constitution, like the National People's Congress and representatives of the people at various levels, but this is not happening according to the constitution. That's what I want to stress," she told Reuters by telephone.

According to China's Constitution, the "people's representatives", the equivalent of members of Parliament in other countries, should be directly elected by the people.

But that does not happen in practice. Elections that do take place occur without any opposition candidates and official candidates are pre-approved and pre-screened by the Communist Party. It is widely suspected that votes cast against candidates are not counted.

The Constitution "says that the Communist Party will lead for the long-term, and in the present circumstances we accept that... It's in the Constitution, so we have to accept it," said Prof Wang, 48, an associate professor of international trade at the Beijing Institute of Economics and Management.

The new party plans to hold its first congress next year to elect a vice-chairman, Prof Wang said, declining to say how many members her new party had.

She described herself as an "initiator" of the party and accepted that forming it was a sensitive move ahead of a meeting of top leaders that started in Beijing on Saturday to map out a long-term economic plan for the country.

Prof Wang said that she is currently under surveillance with police and plainclothed security outside her house.

Asked earlier if she was worried that she might be arrested, she said: "We are not afraid. I don't think we will be arrested".

Despite being a supporter of Bo, Prof Wang says she was originally driven to speak up for him because of a simple sense that he had been legally wronged.

Bo was dramatically sacked last year as Communist Party chief of the Chongqing metropolis following a scandal involving the murder of British businessman, for which Bo's wife was convicted.

Prof Wang wrote two open letters last year decrying what had happened to Bo, after which she was detained. Upon being released, Prof Wang was flooded with messages from supporters and sympathisers of Bo, someone about whom she admitted she had previously known little.

"Everyone told me what kind of man Bo Xilai was - they were all ordinary people. Only then did I start to understand him," Prof Wang said. "I went from having an objective, legal point of view when talking about him, to becoming a supporter."

"But I'm not a fan because fans are not rational and I'm rational."

Prof Wang said she had never met Bo but declined to comment when asked if she had met any of Bo's relatives following his dismissal.

She went to Chongqing to meet Bo supporters in June last year, but was forced back to Beijing and put under house arrest for about a week, during which time she staged a hunger strike and ended up in hospital.

Bo, a "princeling" son of a former vice-premier, was once a rising star in China's leadership and had cultivated a following through his populist, quasi-Maoist policies.

He was jailed in September for life on charges of corruption and abuse of power after a dramatic fall from grace that shook the ruling Communist Party. Bo had denied the charges. It was not immediately clear if Bo would accept the chairman's role in the new party.

Dr Han Deqiang, a Beijing academic who has been one of the most ardent defenders of Bo's policies when he was Communist Party chief of Chongqing, knows Prof Wang as a passionate supporter of Bo.

Dr Han said he was not a member of her new party.

"She's been very brave and very resolute. She's really an astonishing person," Dr Han told Reuters.

"I know she is not worried about being taken away. She believes that everything she is doing is in accordance with the Constitution. She's simply a citizen who is exercising her rights in accordance with the Constitution, including the right to set up a party."

Activists have been jailed in the past for setting up political parties, although parties have never before coalesced around fallen top political figures.

One of China's most prominent dissidents Xu Wenli was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1998 for helping to organise the opposition China Democracy Party.

More recently, a group of dissidents helped organise the"Charter 08" movement, calling for sweeping political reforms.

One of their leaders Liu Xiaobo was jailed for 11 years in 2009. A year later he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Prof Wang said her party was totally different because she was not seeking to repudiate the Communist Party.

"There was Charter 08 - I think their motives were good, but the way they went about things was definitely wrong," she said, adding she was in favour of direct elections for the country's rubber-stamped Parliament, the National People's Congress.

The Zhi Xian Party was formed on Nov 6, just three days before the opening on Saturday of a key conclave of top Communist Party leaders to discuss much-needed economic reforms, including how to further push back the state's involvement of the economy, something leftists have fought hard against.

"Privatisation is against the Constitution. State-owned enterprises are the lifeblood of China's economy," Prof Wang said.