Villagers make bold attempts at democracy

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, March 12, 2011
Adjust font size:

Outspoken but under-educated villagers gathered courage to speak out over who could be elected as village leaders and how village budgets should be allocated.

The rights to make such bold moves, attempted in various Chinese villages, were ensured by the People's Republic of China Constitution as well as "a complete set of types of laws."

Wu Bangguo, China's top legislator, said during the annual legislative session of the National People's Congress (NPC) that the world's most populated country had enacted 236 laws, over 690 administrative regulations and more than 8,600 local statutes by the end of 2010.

Nearly 3,000 lawmakers discussed how to effectively broaden democracy during the ongoing Fourth Session of the 11th NPC.

Direct elections

Xin Chunying, a law professor-turned lawmaker, told the press during the NPC session that by enacting the Mediation Law, for example, democracy could be strengthened at grassroots levels.

Her remarks have already been verified in both Sichuan and Zhejiang provinces where villagers chose local leaders by voting and debated how the government could spend public money.

Since December 1998, villagers of Buyun Township, in southwest China's largely rural Sichuan Province, have elected magistrates to manage township affairs and assign resources.

The 1998 township election in Sichuan was a landmark in Chinese direct elections, although at a grassroots level.

"Villagers were very enthusiastic about the election, though it was unheard of by us," Cai Jingquan, an organizer for the first election in Tandongzi Village, told Xinhua. "Over 1,000 people braved heavy rain that day and arrived at a ballot site to cast their votes."

Candidates had to announce their running policies to all voters at each election site, where zealous villagers bombarded sharp questions at them.

Those questions touched on nearly every aspect of daily rural life, from farming tools, road building and unlawful land seizure, to possible fraud and suspected corrupt officials.

Sichuan's success has spread township-level direct elections to many areas administered to by the provincial government.

Public participation in budget planning

Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province that experienced China's most rapid economic growth in recent decades, is largely baffled by conflicts of interest among its various communities, which are not always on equal political and economic footing.

Many villagers appeal to higher authorities for justice, even to the state government in Beijing; however, venting these appeals is often done in vain.

Yu Pei, an NPC deputy specializing in world history, told Xinhua, "To step closer to democracy, people need to have their voice heard for decision making and such a mechanism should be established."

Democratic consultation, law experts say, may provide a way for people to weigh in on government decision making.

In 1999, Wenling of Zhejiang tested a new form of democratic consultation featuring public involvement and civic participation.

In 2005, fiscal budget allocations and reviews were added to the consultation, which was later merged into the regular discussions of the township people's congress.

Chen Yimin, a chief designer of the consultation mechanism, said, "Governmental officials must speak candidly about their performance and budgetary problems."

"The officials must be responsible for every promise or answer they've ever made," Chen added. "All the procedure is recorded, so no one can play tricks."

In the Wenling case, fiscal budget amendments can be proposed by at least five township people's congress deputies. They could make various requests, including moves to revise budget plans.

"The township people's congress deputies are performing their duties to propose amendments," Chen said. "This is good for villagers."

Diversified views on tryouts

Ma Deyong, a political scientist at the Tianjin-based Nankai University, said, "An institutional democracy requires not only environmental but also intrinsic conditions."

"Any tryouts in pushing democracy should be adaptable to diversified situations," Ma said.

Direct elections in Buyun Township have become a topic of controversy as some accuse it of going against existing laws and regulations, as only the township people's congress is entitled to vote for township leaders. Others argue that the election pattern is a demonstration of villagers' direct participation.

In December 2001, the township adjusted the way of electing its chiefs to fall strictly in line with the Constitution and the Organic Law of the Local People's Congresses and Governments at Various Levels.

All voters in the township directly elect the sole candidate for township chief before handing over the result to the township people's congress for a one-candidate election.

In Wenling, people also have different views on the way of grassroots-level democracy.

Those who favor the idea believe it helps common people get more involved in decision making and economic construction and it ensures their rights in a transparent manner. Other people argue that it might risk undermining government authority.

Yu said, "Since grassroots level democracy is still an experiment in process, it might well continue."

"Nevertheless," he said, "it should proceed on the basis of the rule of law, with officials performing their duties according to the law."

The Sichuan and Zhejiang democracy attempts have demonstrated the country's resolve in heading for democracy. It still takes time and practice to know about its value, observers said.

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comments

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from