SINCE the 18th CPC National Congress convened in 2012 General Secretary Xi Jinping has extensively enriched and developed theories on people’s democracy by putting forward his thought on socialist consultative democracy with Chinese characteristics in the new era.
A Theoretical Advancement
Some people equate democracy with election. Xi Jinping’s thought acknowledges that electoral democracy and consultative democracy are both important forms of democracy, but it’s the latter that represents the essence of the people’s democracy. The report Xi delivered to the 19th CPC National Congress states: “The essence of people’s democracy is that the people get to discuss their own affairs.”
As for the nature and genesis of consultative democracy, the general secretary said: “Consultative democracy is a unique form of Chinese socialist democracy. It springs from our nation’s long-established inclusive political culture, including notions such as all under heaven belongs to the people, mutual learning and inclusiveness, and seeking common ground while putting aside differences. It springs from China’s political evolution in modern times, from the long-term practical experience as the CPC led the people through the course of revolution, development and reform; from the great innovations made in our political institutions after the founding of the People’s Republic of China by all political parties, people’s organizations, ethnic groups, and people from all social strata and different backgrounds; and from continuous innovations in China’s political system since the adoption of reform and opening-up. It has firm cultural, theoretical, practical, and institutional foundations.”
On the relationship between consultative democracy and electoral democracy, Xi remarked: “In such a vast and populous socialist country, extensive deliberation under the leadership of the CPC on major issues affecting the economy and the people’s livelihood embodies the unity of democracy and centralism. Chinese socialist democracy takes two important forms: In one, the people exercise their right to vote in elections; and in the other, people from all sectors of society undertake extensive deliberations before major decisions are made. In China these two forms do not cancel one another out, nor are they contradictory. They are complementary. They constitute institutional features and strengths of Chinese socialist democracy.”
The essence of the people’s democracy is that the people get to discuss their own affairs. In this regard Xi articulated: “To reach consensus on the wishes and needs of the whole society is the essence of people’s democracy. On matters that concern the people’s interests, deliberations should be held with the people. Without deliberation or with insufficient deliberation, it is difficult to handle these matters well. We should always hold deliberations when we raise and address issues; the more numerous and in-depth, the better.”
He further elaborated that on matters that have a bearing on the interests of everyone, deliberations should be held extensively throughout the whole of society; on matters that concern the interests of people in a specific area, deliberations should be held locally; on matters that affect the interests of certain groups of people, deliberations should be held among those groups; and on matters that concern the interests of a particular community, deliberations should be held within this community.
Tibetan members of the 12th CPPCC Qinghai Provincial Committee listen to simultaneous interpretations of the committee’s work report on earphones at its first session on January 24, 2018.
The process of holding extensive deliberations among the people is the process of promoting democracy and drawing on collective wisdom, the process of unifying people’s thinking and building consensus, the process of scientific and democratic decision-making, and the process of ensuring the position of the people as masters of the country.
It is paramount that the people’s lawfully elected representatives participate in the management of state affairs and activities, and it is equally important that the people participate in such activities through systems and methods that go further than elections. If they merely have the right to vote but no right of extensive participation, in other words, if they are “awakened” only at the time of election, and go into “hibernation” afterwards, this is token democracy.
On how to further improve socialist consultative democracy, the general secretary called for efforts to advance its broad-based, multilevel, and institutionalized development. “Looking forward, we must adhere to the principle of democratic centralism, encourage the free airing of views, gather advice from all sides, and get every member of society to think and work for a common cause. This will allow us to achieve success in all our social programs, consolidate the political situation of stability and unity, and harmonize the relations between political parties, ethnic groups, various religions, social strata, and between our compatriots at home and overseas.”
He cautioned that socialist consultative democracy is not a matter of doing things for the sake of appearances; it must be carried out in a down-to-earth manner. And it must be put into practice in all respects, rather than just in a particular aspect, and across the country at all levels, rather than just at a certain level. Therefore we must establish a system of socialist consultative democracy that has rational procedures and is all-inclusive, so as to ensure that it is carried out on the basis of proper institutions, rules, regulations, and procedures.
“When we talk about consultation, we mean real consultation,” Xi stressed. “Real consultation requires consultation both before and during the process of decision-making. It requires that decisions are made and actions are modified on the basis of opinions and suggestions from all sectors. It also requires that institutions are in place to ensure that the results of consultations are implemented, so that our decisions and actions reflect public will and are better adapted to real-life conditions.”
The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) plays a pivotal role in China’s consultative democracy. It operates within the Constitution, its charter, and relevant laws, and on the basis of the CPC-led multi-party cooperative system and political consultative system. The CPPCC serves as a major channel for conducting socialist consultative democracy via its functions of consultation, supervision, participation and cooperation.
Xi has urged the CPPCC to diligently perform its role as a specialized consultative organ, and promote the development of the political consultation system, democratic oversight system, and the system of participation in the administration and discussion of state affairs. For this end the CPPCC should further improve its institutions, standards, and procedures for consultative democracy, and do a better job in coordinating relations, pooling strength, soliciting opinions and advice, and serving the overall interests of the nation.
He called for the CPPCC to expand the range of issues for consultation, adopt new forms of consultation, and improve the selection mechanisms for consultation subjects, for the consultation to be organized, its outcomes implemented, as well as for the feedback collected. Xi also required the CPPCC to conduct, in a flexible and regular manner, intensive consultations on special issues with people who work on these issues, with representatives from all sectors of society, and with relevant government authorities on the handling of proposals. The CPPCC is also encouraged to convene consultation events online and by way of remote video among other new means. All should serve the goal of making the consultation more effective, and create an ambience for consultation participants to fully express themselves, but in a rational and proper manner, and follow relevant laws and rules.
As we can see from above, Xi Jinping’s views on consultative democracy constitute a broad scientific system. It is a key component of his thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era, a significant advancement in the CPC’s theories about the people’s democracy, and another major achievement in the efforts to apply Marxism to the Chinese context.
CPPCC, an Institution of Chinese Characteristics
The 19th CPC National Congress raised new requirements for the development of socialist consultative democracy, vowing that China will expand the people’s orderly political participation to see that in accordance with law they engage in democratic elections, consultations, decision-making, management, and oversight.
The report Xi delivered at the latest CPC National Congress said that China will adopt a coordinated approach to promoting consultations carried out by political parties, people’s congresses, government departments, CPPCC committees, people’s organizations, communities, and social organizations. The country will also strengthen the institutions of consultative democracy and develop complete procedures and practices to enable the people’s broad, continuous, and intensive participation in day-to-day political activities. These are meant to bring into full play the advantageous role of consultative democracy, the form of democracy with distinct Chinese characteristics.
A courier is among the 13 citizen representatives invited to the first session of the 12th CPPCC Shandong Provincial Committee on January 24, 2018.
Democracy is akin to a castle in the air without viable institutions and systems to support it. In the part of strengthening institutional guarantees to ensure the people run the country, the report said, “We must steadily improve 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.” It also underlines that “the CPPCC, as a distinctively Chinese political institution, is a major channel for socialist consultative democracy, and its committees are specialist consultative bodies.”
Xi defined the nature of the CPPCC in his speech marking the 65th anniversary of the organization: “Being an agency of the united front and also an institution of multi-party cooperation and political consultation, the CPPCC is an important way to materialize the people’s democracy, and embodies the distinct features of the Chinese socialist system.” He declared that the CPPCC is a distinctively Chinese political institution that fits Chinese conditions. This statement was incorporated into Xi’s report to the 19th CPC National Congress.
The two facets of consultative democracy – being the essence of the people’s democracy and being a distinctively Chinese political institution – are interrelated, mutually corroborated and reciprocally reinforced. Because the essence of the people’s democracy is materialized by the institution; and in return this institution must embody the essence of the people’s democracy. As such, Xi Jinping’s statements on the CPPCC and consultative democracy, as part of his thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era, are an important guidance for advancing the development of consultative democracy through the CPPCC.
Xi declared in his report to the latest CPC National Congress: “We will strengthen the institutions of consultative democracy and develop complete procedures and practices to enable the people’s broad, continuous, and intensive participation in day-to-day political activities.” In the debate of democratic theories, some scholars root for procedural democracy, and others stand behind substantive democracy. However, neither makes any sense if not put into practice and extensively participated by the people.
But how to “develop complete procedures and practices to enable the people’s broad, continuous, and intensive participation”? Xi gave the answer in his report: “The CPPCC committees should focus on the Party and the country’s key tasks. With the themes of unity and democracy in mind, they should exercise consultative democracy throughout the whole process of political consultation, democratic oversight, and participation in the deliberation and administration of state affairs; and they should improve the content and forms of consultation and deliberation to build consensus and promote unity. They should strengthen democratic oversight, focusing on the implementation of the major principles, policies, decisions, and plans of the Party and the state. They should better represent different social sectors and strengthen competence of their members.”
True consultative democracy needs both complete procedures and practices and the people’s participation. And, as Xi pointed out, it must be exercised throughout the whole process of political consultation, democratic oversight, and participation in the deliberation and administration of state affairs, including the process of team building of the CPPCC and oversight of its members.
It should be noticed that this statement on consultative democracy comports with Xi’s people-centered stance, a keystone of his thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era. Only by being committed to the “people first” principle can we continuously advance consultative democracy under the framework of the CPPCC.
LI JUNRU is former vice president of Party School of the CPC Central Committee.