Nation strengthens grassroots democracy

By Cao Yin China Daily Updated: 2021-11-11

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It was Jiang Yiqun, deputy head of the Jingyang Law Firm in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, who suggested to the top legislature that it should clarify measures involving the employment and resettlement of military families, after reading a draft law related to the issue at the beginning of this year.

Seven months later, when the lawyer received a copy of the finalized law on protecting the status, rights and interests of military personnel, she found that her suggestion had been accepted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the nation's top legislative body.

Thanks to the establishment of opinion collection stations across the country, people at the grassroots, such as Jiang, now have a greater opportunity to get their voices heard by national legislators.

The stations are seen as an innovative way for people at the grassroots and from different social backgrounds to participate in legislative affairs, and are an expression of what President Xi Jinping calls "whole-process democracy".

During his visit to one of these stations in November 2019 at Gubei Civic Center in Shanghai's Hongqiao subdistrict, Xi said, "People's democracy is a type of whole-process democracy."

Xi highlighted the development of the concept of whole-process democracy in his keynote speech at a grand gathering in Beijing on July 1 to mark the centenary of the Communist Party of China.

Last month, he again stressed the concept at a central conference on work related to people's congresses, emphasizing that "democracy, a shared value of humanity, is a key tenet unswervingly upheld by the CPC and the Chinese people".

Whole-process democracy under the Party's leadership helps the country advance governance in more aspects and plays a major role in ensuring that it is people-centered, experts said as the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee meets in Beijing.

The four-day session, which started on Monday, is reviewing a key resolution on the major achievements and historical experience of the Party's 100 years of endeavors.

Liu Leming, an associate professor at East China University of Political Science and Law, said that soliciting public opinion on draft legislation is both a characteristic and an advantage of China's whole-process democracy.

In July 2015, the NPC Standing Committee's Legislative Affairs Commission designated the standing committees of legislatures in Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, Lintao in Gansu province, Xiangyang in Hubei province, and the Hongqiao subdistrict of Shanghai as the first group of grassroots legislation opinion collection stations.

The standing committee of Jingdezhen's people's congress invited a number of people from different walks of life to participate in legislative seminars and research. Those who were invited were selected on the basis of their ability to contribute meaningfully to the matter at hand and consequently, many were from a legal background.

So in January, when Jingdezhen's legislature was gathering opinions for the then draft law on protecting the status, rights and interests of military personnel, Jiang, who is a lawyer and whose husband is a naval officer, was selected to attend one of the seminars, along with representatives of the local military authorities and veterans.

At the time, the draft recommendations regarding the employment and resettlement of family members of military personnel were not clear, so Jiang "called on lawmakers to be more specific to further protect military interests".

When the law came into effect on Aug 1, it stipulated that employers should be encouraged to prioritize the family members of military personnel. It further stipulated that State-owned enterprises should employ an "appropriate proportion" of family members of military personnel when recruiting staff, and added that private enterprises could follow suit.

"I was so proud at that moment, because my voice had been heard by national legislators," said Jiang. "I had been able to give advice directly to the top legislature, thanks to the grassroots legislation opinion collection station."

Experience from research

Besides holding seminars to solicit opinions on draft legislation from professionals, Jingdezhen's legislature also organized visits to local communities to learn directly about residents' concerns.

Comparing the station to "a nonstop train that can take residents' legislative ideas directly to the country's top legislature", Li Meiling, director of Chengbei community in Fuliang county of Jingdezhen, said that people have now been given greater access to legislative affairs.

She said that the stations contribute to ensuring that the people are the masters of the country.

After seeing the results of the work of the first four stations, the NPC Standing Committee's Legislative Affairs Commission expanded the number to 22 at the end of July. These stations now cover the standing committees of legislatures at provincial and city levels, as well as colleges and technological zones.

As of October, the 22 stations have collected more than 7,800 opinions on 126 legal documents, including laws and legislative plans.

According to Sun Zhenping, director of the NPC Standing Committee's Legislative Affairs Commission office, over 2,200 opinions were accepted by the NPC Standing Committee and some 1,300 were directly written into laws.

At the central conference on work related to people's congresses last month, Xi stated that the key to democracy lies in whether the people run the country, have the right to vote and more importantly, whether they have the right to broad participation.

Democracy is not an ornament for decoration, but is for solving the problems the people want to solve, Xi said.

He also said that democracy is a right that all people around the world enjoy, not a privilege reserved for a small minority of countries. Whether a country is democratic or not should be a matter determined by its own people, not by a handful of outsiders, he added.

Whole-process democracy is described by Wang Chen, vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, as "a hallmark of socialist democracy that distinguishes it from various capitalist democratic systems".

Socialist democracy runs through all processes including elections, decision-making, management and supervision.

Liu, the professor from East China University of Political Science and Law, added, "Some Westerners think Western democracy is the only form of democracy in the world, which is undemocratic."

As President Xi has pointed out, there are many ways to achieve democracy and there is no one-size-fits-all model. "It's not suitable to use a single yardstick to measure the world's various political systems," he added.

Liu also noted that Chinese democracy is reflected in other ways, such as through political consultation and the workers' congress of enterprises.

"We pay attention to procedural democracy, but focus more on solving practical difficulties for the people and on dealing with economic, social and cultural affairs in a democratic manner," he added.

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