Political Consultation, Democracy China Style
— An Interview with Li Junru, Member of the CPPCC National Committee
By staff reporter YAO BEI
EVERY March, participants from all walks of life and political parties gather in Beijing to take part in China's two most important political events of the year. At the annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC), its highest legislative body, and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), its top political advisory body, deputies to the NPC and members of the CPPCC National Committee pool their experience, knowledge and opinions to review the work of government over the previous year and plan for the coming months.
Our foreign readers often raise questions about issues such as the respective functions of the NPC and the CPPCC, how the CPPCC embodies Chinese democracy and why China has opted for a multi-party cooperation system rather than the multi-party system found in many countries. Against the background of the NPC and CPPCC's gatherings, China Today put these questions to Li Junru, a member of the 11th CPPCC National Committee and vice president of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.
The NPC and the CPPCC
In response to China Today's opening question, Li first clarified the nature of appointments in the two bodies. NPC deputies are elected by the public, while CPPCC members are nominated through consultation and recommendation.
He went on to explain that, as the nation's highest legislative body, the NPC makes and amends the Constitution and other laws, and elects and appoints members to central state organs, including the president, the premier, the chairman of the Central Military Commission, the president of the Supreme People's Court and the procurator-general of the Supreme People's Procuratorate. The NPC deputies monitor these top officials' performance by reviewing and approving their work reports at the annual gathering.
The CPPCC is a political advisory body that participates in national politics by soliciting opinions and suggestions on state affairs from representatives of different ethnic, political and professional backgrounds. "This is why the premier starts his report at the annual NPC session with the words, 'On behalf of the State Council, I now present to you my report on the work of the government for your deliberation and approval, and for comments and suggestions from members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC),'" Li Junru said.
Combining Elections with Consultations
In Li's opinion, the development of human civilization has produced three forms of democracy – democracy through election, democracy through consultation and democracy through negotiation. "It was not until recent decades that democracy through consultation – the mission of the CPPCC – received due attention in the world, including in China itself. After the May Fourth Movement, which heralded the new democratic revolution in China, Chinese people were mostly more interested in Western democracy, which happens through elections," Li said.
But in the 1960s and 1970s, the election process began to lose its appeal in countries engaged in this form of democracy. Voter turnout declined and people became disenchanted with elections. Li offered his explanation for this phenomenon.
"Often elected state leaders don't honor the promises they make during their running campaigns and steer state policies to serve the interests of a particular group they represent," said Li. "This has greatly disappointed voters. These problems have promoted Western politicians and scholars to rethink their democratic systems. Jürgen Habermas, renowned German philosopher and sociologist, proposed to combine elections with political consultations, providing citizens with a channel for dialogue with the government prior to and after elections.
"As I see it, democracy through election ensures the power and rights of 51 percent of a population at the cost of those of the remaining 49 percent. It is an intricate system that seems to be in the interests of everybody, but actually serves a slender majority – the 51 percent. In China democracy through election is put into practice through the NPC, while the CPPCC exists to make sure that the other 49 percent of Chinese citizens can exercise and protect their rights and interests through another channel – political consultation. When the two establishments work side by side, the whole population have their interests represented."
In China, the NPC has the legislative power, while the government has the administrative power. The CPPCC ostensibly doesn't have any substantial power, but Li insisted its significance cannot be underestimated. "The CPPCC's democratic political consultation lays the groundwork that allows all parties involved to reach an agreement acceptable to all."
Furthermore, the influence of such consultations is growing. Following instructions of the central authorities, local Party committees and governments have set greater store by the work of regional CPPCC committees. Guangdong Province, for example, took the lead in mandating that all major issues must be subject to discussions by the provincial CPPCC committee before a decision is made by the local Party committee. "Before, the stipulation was that political consultation should be conducted before decision making. Now the word is must," said Li, delighted by the change.
Why the Multi-Party Cooperation System?
"In multi-party systems, different parties are in competition with each other. Under the multi-party cooperation system in China, the eight non-CPC parties participate in the discussion and management of state affairs, in cooperation with the CPC," Li Junru explains. "That is to say, the CPC is the ruling party, with the eight other political parties participating in running the state, and the relationship between the CPC and participating parties is not like that between a ruling party and its opposition."
The eight non-CPC parties participate in the full spectrum of state politics. They take part in making and implementation of state policies, laws and regulations, and give consultations on other major political issues and are directly involved in selection and election of top officials. The CPC Central Committee consults with non-communist parties before it adopts major decisions, and seeks their opinions before its plenary sessions.
Instead of being directly elected by the public, CPPCC members are recommended for positions by the political parties or people's organizations they belong to, and at least 60 percent of CPPCC seats should go to non-CPC members.
The Political Consultative Conference: A Product of Chinese Values
In Li's opinion, the political consultation system roots in China's consultation-centered political culture. It is valued for its ability to avoid confrontation and division by ensuring that problems are looked at from various perspectives and that common ground is sought without disregarding differences in opinion.
He recounted the story of Yao, a legendary ruler recorded in China's historical chronicles, who summoned tribe leaders to discuss candidates for his successor instead of choosing his favorite or leaving his position to his son. Everyone present was encouraged to give his opinion at the meeting. The successful candidate Shun, who had both ability and political integrity, went on the same method when he reached old age. "China's democracy through political consultation has deep cultural and historic roots," Li concluded.
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