Published: 10:48, October 25, 2021 | Updated: 10:48, October 25, 2021
People central to democracy, says Xi
By Cao Desheng and Cao Yin

President Xi Jinping visits the Gubei civic center in Shanghai’s Changning district where a consultation meeting on a draft law was being held, on Nov 2, 2019. Xi summed up the concept of “whole-process people’s democracy” during the visit. (XIE HUANCHI / XINHUA)

Democracy is not an ornament but for solving problems; democracy is a “key tenet” of the Communist Party of China and Chinese governance; and in a democracy people are really the masters of a country. 

These were remarks made by President Xi Jinping as he addressed a series of questions at a central conference on people’s congresses held in Beijing on Oct 13-14: What defines a true democracy? What makes a system democratic or not? How democratic is China’s political system? Why elections alone cannot be full democracy? 

In a democratic political system, people should administer national, social, economic, and cultural affairs in accordance with the law, various sectors of society should participate effectively in national political affairs, and state decision-making should be rational and democratic, Xi noted.

“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 stressed.

China’s application of democratic principles follows an approach Xi has termed “whole-process people’s democracy.” The concept was first put forward by Xi during an inspection tour of Shanghai in November 2019 when he emphasized that China is marching on a political development path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and that its people’s democracy is a whole-process democracy.

Xi has underlined further promoting whole-process democracy that enables the Chinese people to be broadly involved in national governance, saying that whether a country is democratic or not depends on whether it is truly run by the people.

Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, called for upholding and improving the system of people’s congresses, a political system fundamental to the Party’s leadership, the running of the country by the people, and law-based governance. Such a system ensures the realization of whole-process democracy in the country, he said.

In China’s political system, the people exercise State power through the National People’s Congress, the country’s top legislature, and local people’s congresses at different levels, ensuring their interests are reflected in the decision-making process.

Xi called Chinese democracy “whole-process people’s democracy” as it enables the Chinese people to broadly and continuously participate in day-to-day political activities, including democratic elections, political consultation, decision-making and oversight.

“Democracy, a shared value of humanity, is a key tenet unswervingly upheld by the CPC and the Chinese people,” Xi emphasized.

The key to a country’s democracy lies in whether the people run the country, depending on if the people have the right to vote and more importantly, whether the people have the right to broad participation, he said.

“If the people are awakened only for voting but enter a dormant period soon after, if they are given a song and dance during campaigning but have no say after the election, or if they are favored during canvassing but are left out in the cold after the election, such a democracy is not a true democracy,” Xi said.

Judging whether a country is democratic or not, Xi said, should also take into account what political procedures and rules are stipulated by the systems and laws. More importantly, it is also a question of whether these systems and laws are implemented well, he added.

Xi said democracy is a right that all people around the world enjoy, not a privilege reserved to a small minority of countries. Whether a country is democratic or not should be judged by its own people, not by a handful of people from outside it, Xi said, adding that whether a member of the international community is democratic or not should be judged together by the international community, not by a self-righteous minority.

There are many ways to achieve democracy, and there is no one-size-fits-all model, Xi pointed out. It is undemocratic in itself to use a single yardstick to measure the world’s various political systems and examine the rich political civilization of mankind with a monochrome eye, he added.

Whole-process people’s democracy in China not only has a complete set of institutions and procedures, but also full participation, Xi said.

He also called for focusing on whether the rules and procedures for the operation of power are democratic while stressing that the key issue lies in whether power is really supervised by the people.

While stating that whole-process people’s democracy in China is “the broadest, most genuine, and most effective socialist democracy” safeguarding the fundamental interests of the people, Xi called for efforts to further promote the principle of the running of the country by the people, when it comes to national governance, and reflect this in specific efforts to meet people’s aspirations for a better life.

The people’s congress system has provided an important institutional guarantee for the Chinese people, led by the CPC, to create the miracles of fast economic growth and long-term social stability over the past 60 years, particularly over the four decades of reform and opening-up, Xi said.

He called for efforts to strengthen and improve work related to people’s congresses in the new era, saying that the Constitution must be fully implemented and its sanctity and authority must be upheld.

Efforts should be stepped up to improve the legal system with Chinese characteristics to ensure that lawmaking contributes to the country’s development and ensures good governance, Xi said.

He stressed the need to strengthen the overall leadership over legislative work by the Party, and called for expanding the people’s participation in political affairs, as well as increasing legal protection for human rights to ensure that the people enjoy extensive rights and freedoms as prescribed by law.

The people’s right to be informed, participate and heard, and to supervise, must be guaranteed in every aspect of the work related to people’s congresses, Xi said.

He also said that people’s congresses should properly and effectively exercise their power of supervision in accordance with the law, and deputies to people’s congresses should fully exercise their duties.

Shang Hongri, a political science scholar from Shanghai Normal University, said Xi’s remarks provided significant direction for his research on whole-process democracy, noting that improved research in this regard will help address uncertainties from home and abroad regarding the country’s development.

Shang said he was encouraged by Xi emphasizing that democracy is to be used to solve the problems that the people want to solve, adding “it’s the nature and the goal of our Chinese democracy”.

Calling for more studies to enrich whole-process democracy, he said he was confident that such democracy will play a bigger role in serving the people and promoting social governance.

Also in 2019, Xi had visited residents of a traditional hutong courtyard community in central Beijing and joined them for a “courtyard meeting hall” session. The “courtyard meeting hall” provides a platform for residents to discuss and debate public affairs. Residents’ discussions that time focused on the renovation and preservation of the traditional architecture and heritage.

“When the residents enjoy the right to discuss and decide their affairs, they will have a stronger sense of belonging and being masters, and community governance and service will be more accurate and meticulous,” Xi noted after talking with the hutong residents.

Liu Leming, an associate professor at East China University of Political Science and Law, said Xi’s remarks not only set out higher requirements for the work of people’s congresses in the new era, but also gave clear directions on ensuring whole-process democracy in government and Party departments at each level.

Comparing the system of people’s congresses to a tree trunk in implementing whole-process democracy, Liu said it is time to further promote Chinese democracy in other parts of the tree, such as its leaves, flowers and fruits.

Chinese lawmakers are considering incorporating whole-process people’s democracy into the Organic Law of the Local People’s Congresses and Local People’s Governments.

The draft amendment to the law was submitted to the ongoing session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee for review on Oct 19.

Sang Yucheng, a professor of political science at Fudan University in Shanghai, regarded the people’s congress system as a building, saying it has ensured that the people are masters of the country over the past decades by strengthening its frame and improving its functions.

“In this new era, it’s key for us to develop the whole-process people’s democracy by further promoting the building’s layout and interior decor,” Sang said.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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