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Special> NPC & CPPCC Sessions 2015> Exclusive
UPDATED: March 2, 2015 NO. 10 MARCH 5, 2015
Listening to the People
Citizens get more involved in the decision-making process at the community level
By Ji Jing

ACTIVE PARTICIPATION: Over 300 village representatives and deputies to the local people's congress in Zeguo Township, Wenling in Zhejiang Province, discuss local government's fiscal budgetary plan during a democratic consultation on February 7 (HAN CHUANHAO)

For example, in Xinhe Township, village representatives, deputies to the township people's congress, representatives from all walks of life get together with government officials and hold discussions at the beginning of every year in which some key local government departments present their budget plans and invite opinions and comment. At the meeting, the participants bring attention to items they regard to be inappropriate or unnecessary and then hold discussion till they can come up with consensus to modify the plan. Then the local people's congress will examine and pass the modified budget plan and the public will then supervise its implementation.

Substantial adjustments have been made to the government's fiscal budget plan thanks to these consultations. For example, in Zeguo Township of Wenling, eight items of fiscal spending were added, which involved 18.75 million yuan ($3 million) and seven items were taken out, totaling savings of 54.7 million yuan ($8.7 million).

"Democratic consultations have provided ordinary people like me with a platform to express our opinions on government decisions," said 58-year-old Wu Xiaoju.

The formation of the fiscal budget through democratic consultation started in 2005 in Zeguo and Xinhe. It has involved the common folks in the process of formulating government budget plans. By 2010, the practice had expanded to involve all Wenling's townships. Before 2005, the local budget used to be decided solely by government officials and deputies to the local people's congress.

"Democratic consultations have made the local government's decisions more open and transparent," said Chen Yimin, a government official of Wenling.

"Deliberative democracy at the community-level represents an effective way to solve public affairs and resolve conflicts. It has changed the traditional practice of the government taking care of everything and provided a new way to manage public affairs," said Deng Hong, Director of the Institute of Sociology under the Academy of Social Sciences of east China's Jiangxi Province.

Future development

The importance of China's socialist deliberative democracy has been increasingly recognized by the top Chinese leadership in recent years.

The Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee held in November 2013 stressed that democratic consultations should be carried out on major issues concerning social and economic development and people's interests before and during the process of decision-making.

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, highlighted deliberative democracy as the country's chosen way to foster consensus among the people, while marking the 65th anniversary of China's national political advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, on September 21, 2014.

"Through a deliberative democratic system, such as political advisory bodies, the public are consulted when important state affairs are decided," Xi said. "Democracy is defined not only by people's right to vote in an election but also the right to participate in public affairs on a daily basis," he added.

The CPC Central Committee published a document proposing to promote deliberative democracy on February 9.

Though it has been practiced by China for decades, deliberative democracy needs to be strengthened as the country is in the decisive process of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, the document said.

The document vowed to develop deliberative democracy both in non-communist parties, governments and the political consultative conference system and in grassroots-level organizations.

"In recent years, people are paying greater attention to their rights in areas such as education and medical care. Lack of effective channels for people at the community level to express their aspirations for social benefits will cause social problems," said Li Jinhe, a professor with the Central Institute of Socialism in Beijing.

"Deliberative democracy provides an effective method to resolve social tension through equal dialogue," Li Jinhe added.

Yan Mengwei, a professor with the School of Philosophy of Nankai University in Tianjin, said that in the people's congresses and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, citizens don't directly participate in the process, but elect or recommend representatives to express their opinions. In contrast, during democratic consultation, ordinary citizens can directly take part in decision-making.

Citizens can directly communicate with higher levels of government through letters or express their opinions, suggestions, complaints or demands through the media or online platforms, said Yan.

The key is to cultivate citizens' political awareness, said Ma Depu, Dean of the College of Politics and Public Administration of Tianjin Normal University. "The public should be encouraged to actively participate in public affairs. They should develop a habit of thinking from the perspective of public interests rather than their own," he said.

Email us at: jijing@bjreview.com

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