I'm Robert Lawrence Kuhn and here's what I'm watching: How people's congresses are the primary expression of what China calls its form of democracy — "Whole-Process People's Democracy." While foreigners are surprised to learn that China takes democracy seriously, democracy has been the third of six aspirational adjectives that President Xi Jinping uses to describe China's goal of great rejuvenation.
The centerpiece of Chinese democracy is through the formal processes of the people's congresses, culminating with the National People's Congress, the NPC, which recently held the 2023 session. Empowered to enact laws, the NPC as a whole meets every March, but its various committees, especially its Standing Committee, meet throughout the year to plan and prepare various pieces of legislation that express the political agenda for the year. Many dozens of such legislation are considered.
Deputies of people's congresses are elected according to the Chinese system, which is always under the leadership of the Party, of course. As of 2022, there were more than 2.6 million deputies to China's five levels of people's congresses: state level, provincial, municipal, county and township — with all deputies in county and township people's congresses elected directly by voters.
The election of deputies is called the basic premise for the people to be the masters of the country, to exercise state power and manage state affairs. It is the first link in the whole chain of people's democracy throughout the whole process.
Candidates for deputies recommended jointly by more than ten voters or deputies have the same legal status as candidates for deputies recommended by various parties and people's organizations, according to the Electoral Law of the National People's Congress and Local People's Congresses. Again, it will no doubt surprise foreigners that the Party promotes competitive elections so that voters and deputies have more choices. Party-led committees are responsible to vet or verify qualifications of candidates and deputies before and after elections.
To facilitate fair voting, election funds for people's congresses at all levels are provided by the state treasury; secret ballots ensure free choice of voters; and behaviors that undermine elections are sanctioned severely.
Democracy in the Party-led system calls for public supervision of people's congresses and all levels of government, via feedback and interactive mechanisms. This is the goal set by President Xi, and while implementation is still imperfect, central leaders are pressuring local leaders to change their traditional ways of running local affairs by engaging the people in substance not just in form.
The people's supervision over deputies is said to embody the whole chain of people's democracy. Supervision by voters over deputies can take various forms, such as listening to deputies' reports, making criticisms, offering opinions and suggestions, and even by recalling deputies.
The election of deputies must adapt to the times. The ratio of rural and urban deputies has shifted from 8:1 in 1953 to 1:1 today, equality between urban and rural areas. Adjustments are made to ensure an appropriate number of deputies from all regions, ethnic groups, social strata, industrial sectors, and government and military services.
People's congresses are a work in progress.
I'm keeping watch. I'm Robert Lawrence Kuhn.
Script: Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Editors: Yang Yutong, Qi Haiming, Duan Jiaxin
Designer: Qi Haiming
Producer: Wang Ying
Chief editor: Li Shouen
Supervisors: Ge Jing, Adam Zhu
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