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Whole-process democracy: a genuine and effective model for China
By Sun Yingshuai  ·  2021-12-04  ·   Source: NO.49 DECEMBER 9, 2021
Tax bureau staff members investigate the implementation of related policies at a manufacturer in Handan, Hebei Province, on October 29, 2020 (XINHUA)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has described China's democracy as a whole-process people's democracy. The very purpose of developing socialist democracy is to give full expression to the will of the people, protect their rights and interests, spark their creativity, and provide systemic and institutional guarantees to ensure the people run the country, according to him.

The concept of whole-process people's democracy was originally put forward during Xi's visit to a civic center in Shanghai's Changning District on November 2, 2019. This center serves as a place where local residents, from high school students to retired pensioners, can get involved in the country's lawmaking processes by expressing their opinions.

During the visit, Xi said that "people's democracy is a type of whole-process democracy" and all major legislative decisions are made after going through related procedures and democratic deliberations to make sure the decision-making is solid and democratic.

Xi has further elaborated on the concept on various occasions. The whole-process people's democracy in China not only is based upon a complete set of institutions and procedures, but also features all-inclusive participation and practices, he said at a central conference on work related to people's congresses held in Beijing from October 13 to 14. He noted that this model makes for the broadest, most genuine and most effective socialist democracy.

Engaging the people 

"Whether a country is a democracy or not depends on whether its people are really the masters of the country," Xi said. Democracy is not an ornament to be used for decoration; it is to be used to solve the problems that the people want to solve, he said.

The Communist Party of China (CPC) has always put the people at the center since its founding 100 years ago. The whole-process democracy is people-oriented, reflecting the fundamental mission of the CPC. The concept also accords with basic principles enshrined in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China (PRC), which stipulates that "all power in the PRC belongs to the people," and "the people shall, in accordance with the provisions of law, manage state affairs, economic and cultural undertakings, and social affairs through various channels and in various ways."

The whole-process people's democracy covers all links and aspects of society and involves the entire population. It is exercised through a complete set of institutional arrangements and procedures, including election, consultation, and public oversight. The system upholds an integration of procedural and substantive democracy as well as a combination of direct and indirect democracy, reflecting the needs and desires of the people yet at the same time representing the will of the state.

By improving legal systems and mechanisms, the state ensures the participation of the people in the management of state, economic, cultural and social affairs.

The Chinese characteristics 

The whole-process people's democracy is a form of Chinese-style democratic governance and praxis, facilitating the modernization of the national governance system and its general capabilities.

The Party's leadership is the most fundamental political assurance of the whole-process people's democracy. It is a concept created, developed and made possible by the people under the Party's leadership. As Chinese society today embarks on a new stage of development, only by continuing to uphold the Party's leadership can the sustained and orderly advancement of the whole-process people's democracy be ensured. 

The Chinese Constitution stipulates that the National People's Congress (NPC) and local people's congresses are organizations through which the people exercise the power of governance. The NPC, by law the highest organ of power in the country, and its Standing Committee insist on such a model of whole-process governance. This in turn provides the paramount basis for its better implementation. 

In March, the Fourth Session of the 13th NPC passed the revised Organic Law of the NPC, which stipulates, "The NPC and its Standing Committee shall uphold whole-process democracy, maintain close ties with the people, solicit people's advice and suggestions, fully express the will of the people, and safeguard people's rights and interests." It also requires NPC deputies to fully play their role in whole-process democracy. 

Evolution in motion 

Today, China's socialist democracy has been developing for a century. When the PRC was founded in 1949, the people's democratic dictatorship was adopted as its governing system, with the system of people's congresses instituted as the governing structure. Introduced by the CPC, this specific congressional structure lies at the core of China's political organization, enabling citizens to become masters of their own nation. The Party takes note of the people's voices, framing its policies accordingly. 

Later on, with the coordination of multiparty cooperation and political consultation under CPC leadership, as well as the models of regional ethnic autonomy and community-level self-governance, the position of the people as true masters of the country throughout the whole process of national and social governance has been further ensured. The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference serves as a major channel for conducting consultative democracy.

The close connection between the legislative bodies with local communities on legislative matters guarantees all lawmaking work better mirrors public sentiment. Opinions and suggestions are petitioned online as well as via other mechanisms promoting broad participation such as questionnaires, hearings, seminars and feasibility study meetings. All these see to it that the needs and voices of the people are effectively transformed into the country's major policies.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, public opinion has been sought on draft laws on 187 occasions, with more than 3 million comments from about 1.1 million people received and many subsequently adopted, according to the Standing Committee of the NPC, the country's top legislature. 

Another example is that of China's Civil Code, adopted at the Third Session of the 13th NPC on May 28, 2020, the code is expected to comprehensively strengthen the protection of people's various rights and improve the Chinese socialist system of laws. During its drafting, the government conducted 10 rounds of public opinion solicitation, resulting in over 1 million comments from 425,000 people. The code became effective on January 1, 2021. 

During an online questionnaire for the preparation of formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, over 1 million suggestions were received in two weeks. To this day, tens of thousands of opinions and suggestions have been received on important draft laws concerning the public's vital interests, such as the Criminal Law as well as the laws on individual income tax, the protection of minors, veteran support and copyright. 

Localities across the country have begun exploring innovative mechanisms to make sure residential opinions are heard on topics ranging from major political and economic decisions such as formulating local plus national economic and social development plans, preparing fiscal budgets, and supervising implementation, to the management of communal property, guidance on domestic waste classification and other specific social matters.

(Print Edition Title: A Whole-Process Democracy) 

The author is a professor with the School of Marxism, University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon  

Comments to luyan@bjreview.com  

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