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China Daily Global / 2019-12 / 03 / Page013

Elections alone do not make democracy

By HAN XU | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-12-03 00:00

China's experience in modernizing the national governance system can help develop political civilization

The shortcomings of Western-style democracy have been gradually exposed. In recent years, Western-style democracy has caused socio-political problems in many developing countries, as well as developed European and American economies. China, in contrast, has seen the emergence of socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics in the past 30 to 40 years, which has come to hold a unique value thanks to its emphasis on running democracy through the entire process of exercising public power.

Socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics includes democratic elections, decision-making and administration, and supervision to ensure the system honors the will of the people, protects their rights and interests, and encourages creativity.

During his inspection tour in Shanghai in November, President Xi Jinping pointed out that people's democracy in China is a type of comprehensive democracy. It has great practical and theoretical significance not only for the development of socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics but also for the development of democracy in the world, and the evolution of political civilization.

In modern times, indirect democracy with a representative system as its main form has come to signify democratic politics. But in recent decades, problems such as "money politics" and "elite politics" have become more pronounced, especially in European and American countries. The excessive emphasis on elections, while ignoring other aspects of political construction, is one of the prime reasons for the current sad state of affairs in many developed and developing countries.

To solve a series of problems due to the over-emphasis on elections at the grassroots level in some parts of China in recent years, we have used democratic decision-making, administration, supervision and consultation, which have yielded effective results that can help in the construction of democratic politics in China as well as other countries.

When evaluating a country's level of democracy, we must determine whether its people can manage state and social affairs in accordance with law, whether they can smoothly put forward their demands and whether they can effectively participate in the country's political life. Recent years have seen the rise of populism in quite a few European and American countries where people's prime demand has been democratization of the national decision-making process. An important feature of socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics is that all major legislation and decisions are made through scientific and democratic methods.

When managing national and social affairs, if we want to fully reflect the will of the people and better protect their interests, we should listen to the opinions of all sections of society before making a decision. There is a need to establish a mechanism to receive continuous feedback on decisions, so corrections can be made before finally implementing a particular decision. Therefore, it is necessary that people continuously exercise their rights to information, expression, participation and supervision to achieve a more complete democracy.

Yueqing city in Zhejiang province recently tried to establish a public hearing system comprising the municipal people's congress standing committee, some deputies to the local people's congress, and some citizens and social organizations. The ensuing face-to-face discussions and consultations among local government officials, local people and organizations made government decisions more transparent, promoted better understanding between the government and local residents, and helped solve difficult problems.

In recent years, China has been strengthening the supervision on the use of power and curbing its misuse. For instance, thanks to the reform of the national supervision system, supervisory power has attained constitutional status, and institutions to track corrupt public officials have been established.

The essence of democratic politics is about balancing the relationship between power and rights. Therefore, by strengthening measures to confine power to an institutional cage, we can provide the public with adequate public space to realize the rights to information, expression, participation and supervision. So, elections might be the logical starting point of modern democratic politics, but they are not the historical starting point of democracy.

Democratic politics, instead, begins with the continuous strengthening of the system to supervise power.

China has a tradition of political consultation and follows the path of socialist development with Chinese characteristics. The country has established and is continuously improving multi-tiered and multi-channel consultative democracy in national decision-making and governance. And socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics emphasizes that issues involving people be discussed by all those involved.

All these practices are consistent with the theory of deliberative democracy practiced worldwide over the past two to three decades and have become an organic part of the theory of socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics. Consultation has been an important component of democratic election, decision-making, administration and supervision, and has become an important method to achieve comprehensive democracy.

China is modernizing its national governance system and governance capacity. The people's congress system is China's fundamental political system. But the design of the people's congresses can organically combine democratic elections, decision-making, administration and supervision while making democratic consultation the main channel of exercising authority.

Therefore, the people's congress system not only provides basic institutional support for modernization of the national governance system and governance capacity, but also is the main institutional guarantee for realizing comprehensive democracy.

In addition, the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and the regional ethnic autonomy and primary-level self-governance systems have also played an important role in promoting comprehensive democracy.

We are, however, aware that socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics is not a perfect model. We need to boost economic and social development in order to improve it. But the issue of political development is not unique to China, and it is no longer a problem confined to developing countries. Developed countries, too, need to take their political development issues seriously in the current economic and social conditions.

China's experience in advancing the modernization of the national governance system and governance capacity, especially the development of comprehensive democracy, can provide enlightening examples that can help improve national governance and develop political civilization.





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