At the same time, the party’s use of its power becomes more legal, and the people’s congresses thus help create a more efficient and legitimate government. One of the conclusions in the dissertation is that the people’s congresses can contribute to a higher degree of openness and some diffusion of power. In the short term they thereby reinforce the democratic components of politics. But in the longer term this may also lead to a shoring up of the Communist Party and thereby hamper more comprehensive political change.

The dissertation examines how and to what extent local people’s congresses constrain the political power of local Communist party committees and local government bodies. The thesis also analyzes the political role of these local people’s congresses in China. The author carried out case studies of three people’s congresses at the county level in the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, and interviewed local politicians in 2000–2002.

Two aspects of local people’s congresses were studied in detail: political participation and the wielding of political power. The study distinguishes between “rule by law” and “rule of law.” The difference lies in what and how many players use the law as a political instrument. Thus it involves the distribution of political power in a society and is a matter of degree rather than type. When only one player uses the law to govern, then the player can be said to “rule by law.” When several players use the law in competition with each other, then the rule of law is strengthened. One conclusion is that the party “rules by law” to a greater extent when it makes use of the local people’s congresses to govern. At the same time, people’s congresses can contribute to a higher degree of openness and some diffusion of political power, thereby reinforcing the rule of law.

The role of the people’s congresses is a dual one. On the one hand, they reinforce the power of the party state by legitimizing and improving its governance. On the other hand, the people’s congresses function as a damper on the wielding of power by the party state and help strengthen legal procedures for political decision-making.

Title of dissertation: Authoritarianism Constrained: The Role of Local People’s Congresses in China
Author of dissertation: Oscar Almén, phone: +46 18-37 12 44 (home)
Name of external examiner: Professor Ming Xia, New York
Time and place of public defense: Friday, May 27, 2005, at 1:15 p.m., Hall 120, Department of Peace and Development Research, Brogatan 4, Göteborg