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Grass-roots Democracy
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More explorations should be made to promote grass-roots democracy, says a signed article in the Oriental Morning Post. An excerpt follows:

A new round of residents' committee elections took place in Shanghai through July. It has caught the eye owing to the fact it is the largest urban democratic experience in China. Promoting the democratic culture of Chinese society through expanding grass-roots democracy is a major development in constructing China's democratic system.

Shanghai carried out the first direct election of residents' committee members three years ago. In 2003, the participation target was set at 20 percent but, in fact, 31.4 percent of residents turned out to vote. This time, the target is to allow 40 percent of residents take part in direct elections.

The Organic Law of the Urban Residents' Committees was issued in 1990 but remains largely unrecognized. The implementation of this law is important in order to realize citizens' right to vote and to stand in elections granted by the Constitution. The large-scale direct election of the residents' committees in Shanghai operates within the legal framework of this organic law.

Though some stipulations of the law are unable to meet the requirements of grass-roots democratic experiences in a rapidly developing society, many innovative measures have emerged during these elections. These will certainly help the law advance with the times.

Modern governments are moving from a control model to a servant model. Administrative concepts and operation models should change too. At this stage, it is important to enlarge urban grass-roots democracy and enhance community autonomy to enable governments to concentrate on providing better public products and services.

It is a basic tenet of a harmonious society that it must have harmonious communities. Democratic autonomy within communities is a necessary condition of this. The democratic trial in Shanghai will certainly provide valuable insights for larger scale grass-roots democratic experiments around the country.

A market economy frees people; civil society respects people. Chinese people used to connect to their work units but now communities provide the most important platforms for social contact. Community democratic autonomy is an irreplaceable means of securing every citizen's rights and interests. This direct election campaign will not only create thousands of residents' committees but also foster a democratic culture in the city.

(China Daily August 3, 2006)

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