Further Promoting Self-Governance in Local Communities

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2013-02-18 17:49
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The system of self-governance at the community level is one of China’s basic political systems. Since the Seventeenth National Congress of the CPC, local authorities across the country have produced good results in their efforts to develop self-governance at the community level by treating this as a fundamental task in the development of socialist democratic politics. However, as the transformation of our mode of development picks up momentum, social restructuring accelerates, the interests of different sectors of society are significantly rebalanced, and our way of thinking changes profoundly, we are facing a new situation in which more is being demanded of self-governance at the community level. Therefore, an important task that we must pursue as we stick unswervingly to the socialist path of political development with Chinese characteristics is to fully implement and refine the system of self-governance at the community level, and ensure that urban and rural residents are able to enjoy wider and more substantial democratic rights. 

Villagers queue up to cast their votes for their new village committee in Xinfeng Village, Lishu County, Jilin Province on March 29, 2012. From the holding of community elections to the supervision of local governance, democracy in China’s rural communities is constantly being improved and developed.  Lishu was the first county in China to hold popular votes for the election of village committees. This has since become a common means for the practice of democracy at the community level throughout China. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Wang Haofei 

I. The standing and role of the system of self-governance at the community level within the institutional framework of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics 

The Seventeenth National Congress of the CPC identified the system of self-governance at the community level as one of the basic components of China’s socialist democracy, regarding the implementation and improvement of this system as an important aspect of adhering to the socialist path of political development with Chinese characteristics. During his speech marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CPC, General Secretary Hu Jintao stressed that the system of people’s congresses represents China’s fundamental political system, while the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC, the system of regional ethnic autonomy, and the system of self-governance at the community level constitute its basic political systems. This statement further cemented the standing and role of the system of self-governance at the community level within the institutional framework of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics, providing us with a wider context in which to deepen our understanding of this system.

Self-governance at the community level is the foundation for the development of China’s socialist democratic politics. In our effort to develop a socialist political culture, we must broaden the orderly participation of citizens in political affairs and mobilize and organize public involvement in the administration of state affairs, social affairs, economic affairs, and cultural affairs in accordance with the law. On the one hand, the people exercise the power they enjoy as the masters of the country through the election of the deputies that make up the National People’s Congress and local people’s congresses at various levels. On the other hand, they are able to lawfully manage their own affairs through the establishment and development of organizations for self-governance at the community level and systems for democratic administration. The direct exercise of democratic political rights by people in urban and rural communities is organically linked to the system of representative democracy, serving as an extension of China’s fundamental political system of people’s congresses in local communities. Through the practice of self-governance at the community level, local people can improve their capacity to participate in democratic consultation, democratic supervision, and the administration and deliberation of affairs. This capacity serves as a strong foundation which allows members of the public to engage in democratic consultation and participate in the deliberation and administration of affairs over a broader scope and on a higher level. Local communities are where the system of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics is rooted, where it is based, and where it must be implemented. 

Self-governance at the community level is the main arena for direct public participation in the development of socialist democratic politics. China practices a system of self-governance in urban and rural communities to guarantee that local residents at the community level are able to directly exercise the democratic rights that they enjoy by law. Millions upon millions of Chinese people in urban and rural areas take part in democratic elections, democratic policy making, democratic management, and democratic supervision, achieve self-management, self-service, self-education and self-supervision, and participate in the administration of public affairs and public welfare undertakings in their communities. This constitutes an important means by which they participate in the development of socialist democratic politics. For a long period of time, the system of self-governance at the community level has served as an important arena for the public to exercise their democratic rights in accordance with the law, deepen their involvement in democratic practice, and fully express their wishes and appeals. This system has thus enhanced their identification with democratic politics, and motivated them to participate in the development of socialist democratic politics. Self-governance at the community level is gradually becoming the most extensive, most reliable, and most solid source of public support and drive behind the development of socialist democratic politics.

Self-governance at the community level is the broadest, most direct, and most vivid form of socialist democracy. A salient feature of self-governance at the community level is the stress that it gives to practice and to the broadening of practice. In implementing self-governance at the community level, we must start with the things we know that can be done, address the most immediate concerns of the public first, and promote democracy at the community level steadily and on a step-by-step basis. This is an important approach that we are taking towards the development of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics in practice. At the present, the number of people taking direct part in self-governance in rural communities stands at 600 million, while the number directly involved in self-governance in urban communities has exceeded 300 million. Millions upon millions of people are making better lives for themselves and driving forward the overall development of socialist democratic politics through their personal participation in a wide range of democratic activities in accordance with the law. 

II. New experiences and achievements in self-governance in rural and urban communities since the Seventeenth National Congress of the CPC 

Since the holding of the Seventeenth National Party Congress, self-governance at the community level in China has been continuously improved. The organizations through which self-governance is achieved have been continuously developed, self-governance has become increasingly diverse in form and substance, and highly vitalized mechanisms for self-governance at the community level under the leadership of Party organizations have been further improved. As a result, self-governance at the community level has come to play an increasingly important supporting role within the framework of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics. 

New progress has been made in institutional development. The Law on the Organization of Village Committees has been amended and constant improvements have been made to local statutes. The central government has issued a series of documents pertaining to the development of neighborhood committees and community services, the election of new village committees, and funding guarantees for the operation of organizations at the village level. These provisions have provided a stronger legal and institutional backing for the residents of urban and rural communities to practice self-governance, playing an important role in ensuring that they are able to exercise their right to participate in elections, their right to be informed, their right to be involved in the making of decisions, and their right to supervise public affairs. 

The development of organizations has been continuously strengthened. The organizations of self-governance at the community level now essentially cover the entire country. At the same time, new types of organization for self-governance in urban and rural communities are emerging in constant succession. At present, there are more than 590,000 village committees in China’s rural areas, with a total membership of 2.333 million, and 89,000 neighborhood committees in urban areas, with a membership of 439,000. In recent years, localities throughout the country have worked actively to nurture and develop service, welfare, and support organizations for their communities, and have urged these organizations to play a role in developing local economies, providing services, participating in supervision, and providing feedback and suggestions.

The democracy in four aspects has been promoted in an all-round way. Since the Seventeenth National Congress of the CPC, democratic elections, democratic policy making, democratic administration, and democratic supervision have been practiced over an increasingly broad scope and on a progressively deep level in urban and rural communities. Village committees in most rural areas have gone through eight rounds of elections and over 98% of village committees have been chosen through a process of direct elections as prescribed by law. Techniques such as secret ballots and the open counting of votes have been widely applied. In addition, booths for the filling out of ballots in private have been made widely available, speeches by candidates to rally support and convey their positions on village affairs have become commonplace, and rates of turnout in village elections have been as high as 95%. In cities, neighborhood committees have gone through more than six rounds of elections. Village/neighborhood meetings and village /neighborhood representative meetings have been held on a frequent basis, while the disclosure of village affairs, democratic appraisals, regular reports by village officials, and economic accountability audits for village officials at the time of appointment and departure have become common practice. The scope and coverage of self-governance at the community level are constantly expanding, and the forms through which self-governance is manifested are becoming increasingly diverse.

Support mechanisms have been further strengthened. Service facilities in urban and rural communities throughout the entire country have been enhanced, the competence of community service professionals and the level of welfare they are entitled to have been raised, and capacities for administration and service-provision in urban and rural communities have been further improved. The reform of town and township organizations across the country has been deepened, trials have been actively conducted for the reform of the sub-district and urban community system, the role that the government plays has been further transformed, and the problem of organizations for self-governance being assimilated into the public administration system has been gradually addressed. The subsidization of village-level organizations from various levels of government has increased steadily, more and better places for activities of village-level organizations have been built, good progress has been made in the reduction of village debts, the salaries of village officials and funding for village administration have been increasing by the year, and basic mechanisms to guarantee funding for the operation of village-level organizations have been established.   

III. Important experiences gained from efforts to implement and improve self-governance at the community level since the Seventeenth National Congress of the CPC 

The development of self-governance at the community level in practice since the Seventeenth National Congress of the CPC has allowed us to gain a more objective understanding of the factors that influence the promotion of this system. This process of development has provided us with important experiences that we must draw upon as we work to further implement and continuously refine this system.

We must adhere to the leadership of the Party. The leadership of the Party is a fundamental guarantee ensuring that the people are able to act as the masters of their country; that the country is governed according to law; and that self-governance at the community level continues on the right track. Therefore, the leadership of the Party cannot be allowed to waver. As we work to further implement and improve the system of self-governance at the community level, we must adhere to the leadership of the Party, ensure that the leading role of the Party is manifested in democratic processes and procedures, and make Party leadership a reoccurring theme throughout all aspects of self-governance at the community level. First, the leadership of Party organizations in democratic elections must be ensured. We should advocate that the heads of village/neighborhood Party organizations be elected to chair their village/neighborhood election committees in adherence to the relevant procedures, in which capacity they will oversee the work of village/neighborhood election committees. We should advocate that the secretaries of Party organizations in villages/neighborhoods be nominated to sit on their village/neighborhood committees and elected to chair these committees through a democratic process. Second, the leadership of Party organizations in democratic policy making must be ensured. We should advocate the election of Party members to serve as village/neighborhood team leaders and village/neighborhood representatives through legal procedures, in which capacity they will directly organize and participate in democratic decision making with regard to village/neighborhood affairs. In accordance with local conditions, we need to promote the “four plus two” working method for deliberation and disclosure,* so as to enrich and further enhance mechanisms for self-governance at the village level under the leadership of the Party. Third, the leadership of Party organizations in democratic management and supervision must be ensured. We must ensure that village/neighborhood Party organizations can exercise the right to forward proposals and play a leading role in the formulation and improvement of articles of association on village/neighborhood self-governance, village regulations and folk constitutions, and rules with regard to the proceedings for village/neighborhood meetings and village/neighborhood representative meetings and financial management provisions. We must ensure that village Party organizations can exercise the right to monitor and deliberate all payments from village accounts as well as the operation and management of collective assets. We must ensure that Party organizations can exercise the right to oversee activities such as the democratic appraisal of village/neighborhood cadres and democratic hearings with regard to major village/neighborhood affairs. By improving our highly vitalized mechanisms for self-governance at the community level under the leadership of Party organizations, we will be able to tap into an endless source of impetus for the development of self-governance in local communities.

We must adhere to the principle of making the people the masters of their own country. The fundamental principal of socialist democratic politics is to make the people the masters of their own country. This is also the core and essence of self-governance at the community level. Without full democracy within the scope of the law and statutory regulations, and without giving the people the right to administer public affairs and welfare undertakings at the community level, the system of self-governance in villages/neighborhoods will have no vitality and no drive. An important lesson that we have learned about self-governance at the community level since the Seventeenth National Congress of the CPC is that residents are motivated to assume their role as their own masters when Party organizations at all levels place them in charge and take broad steps to rally and organize their participation in the democratic process. Therefore, we need to further expand the scope of self-governance, create more diverse forms of self-governance, widen the channels for participation in self-governance, and continuously raise the standard of self-governance in local communities. First, the system of democratic elections must be adhered to. We need to make improvements to our system for the direct participation of village/neighborhood residents in democratic elections, and standardize the procedures that are employed during elections. We need to broaden the coverage of direct elections for neighborhood committees and conscientiously safeguard the democratic rights of residents in urban and rural areas. We need to launch trials for the participation of the migrant population in local elections and in community management and services where they reside. Second, the coordinated development of various democratic systems must be promoted. We need to make constant improvements to our system of democratic administration; amend and improve community pledges, village/neighborhood regulations and folk constitutions, and articles of association on village/neighborhood self-governance; and regulate the behavior of cadres and residents in urban and rural communities. We need to devote major efforts to improving the system of democratic policy making by standardizing the procedures for official deliberations and policy making and widening the channels for public participation in democratic policy making. With regard to matters that have a close bearing on the interests of local residents, deliberations must be held in meetings of village/neighborhood residents or their representatives, and the final decision must rest with the public. We need to further enhance democratic supervision, fully implement the policy of making Party affairs, government affairs and village/neighborhood affairs public, organize for village/neighborhood cadres to give reports on their diligence and integrity and to undergo democratic appraisals, so as to conscientiously strengthen the supervision and management of cadres in villages/neighborhoods. Third, the pioneering spirit of the public needs to be respected. Practices that allow the people to better act as their own masters should be promptly identified and popularized, and the various systems that allow village/neighborhood residents to take charge of their own affairs should be improved. We should rally as many village/neighborhood residents as possible to participate in the practice of democracy in their community, so that they may become more adept at managing, teaching, serving, and supervising themselves through the course of practice. Fourth, the scope of self-governance at the community level must be broadened. We should devote major efforts to the development of welfare, service, and support organizations at the community level so that these organizations may play an active role in expanding public participation, conveying public demands, and enhancing the level of self-governance at the community level. We need to further clarify the division of responsibilities between local people’s governments and village/neighborhood committees, and link government administration to local self-governance effectively so that the two can interact favorably. We need to actively look for effective ways of linking self-governance at the community level to other political systems and achieving the coordinated development of these systems, so as to seamlessly integrate the system of self-governance at the community level into the overall process of developing socialist democratic politics.

We must adhere to the rule of law as a fundamental principle. The rule of law is the fundamental principle of the Party for leading the people in the governance of the country, and is also an important prerequisite for self-governance at the community level. We need to identify and apply the successful practices that have been developed through the implementation of self-governance at the community level and maintain a strong commitment to acting in accordance with the law. First, we must conscientiously implement the Law on the Organization of Village Committees, and promptly amend the Law on the Organization of Neighborhood Committees. Local authorities should amend their provisions for the implementation of the Law on the Organization of Village Committees, provisions for the election of village committees, and provisions on the disclosure of village affairs in line with the newly amended Law on the Organization of Village Committees, and make constant efforts to refine local rules and regulations. In an effort to constantly raise the standard of law-based governance in urban and rural communities, we need to strengthen the formulation of policies on self-governance at the community level, act promptly to establish and refine the laws, rules and regulations we need to safeguard the democratic rights that people are entitled to in their communities, and work hard to ensure that we have legally-established systems to go by and that these systems are observed in practice. Second, we need to step up publicity campaigns to raise awareness of the rule of law among cadres and the public and better enable them to handle community affairs, balance various interests, work with the people, address disputes, and maintain social stability in accordance with laws and regulations. Third, we must ensure that there are laws for people to follow, that these laws are observed and strictly enforced, and that lawbreakers are prosecuted resolutely. We must investigate and take punitive action against all acts that are detrimental to self-governance at the community level. We need to improve mechanisms at the community level for the expression of appeals and the resolution of conflicts, urge the public to express their appeals and protect their rights rationally and in accordance with the law, and promote the healthy and orderly development of self-governance at the community level.


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.14, 2012) 

Author: Minister of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China

Note: "Four" refers to four-stage process of deliberation in which proposals are made by a Party branch, discussed by the Party branch committee and the village committee,deliberated by a general meeting of Party members, and decided on by a meeting of villagers or villager representatives. "Two" refers to the disclosure mechanism whereby all resolutions and the outcomes of their implementation are made public.

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