Implementing Whole-Process Democracy for High-Quality Legislative Work in the New Era
In November 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited a local legislative outreach office of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Hongqiao neighborhood in Shanghai. In a conversation with Chinese and foreign residents attending a consultation meeting on a draft law, President Xi said, "We are following a path of socialist political development with Chinese characteristics, and our people's democracy is a whole-process democracy." Again in his speech at the ceremony marking the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in July 2021, President Xi also emphasized the need to "develop whole-process people's democracy."
China's political system of people's congresses fundamentally guarantees that the Chinese people are the masters of their country, and it is instrumental in achieving whole-process democracy. Under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee, led by President Xi, and under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the NPC and its Standing Committee have carefully studied and implemented President Xi's important ideas on upholding and improving the system of people's congresses and his thinking on the rule of law, thoroughly understood the substance, essence, and principle requirements of the important concept of whole-process democracy, listened extensively to and taken onboard the opinions of people in every link of the legislative process, been innovative with democratic methods and improved democratic measures; exploited the advantages of whole-process democracy, promoted high-quality legislation in the new era, and expedited improvements to the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics. Our abundant practice of rational, democratic, and lawful legislation amply proves that all major legislative decisions are made in accordance with procedures, through democratic deliberation, and using rigorous and democratic decision-making, which, in turn, demonstrates our legislative implementation of whole-process democracy.
I. Improving China's legislative system and ensuring whole-process democracy is integrated in the legal system
Under President Xi's leadership, the Central Committee has attached great importance to legislative work since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, with the third and fourth plenary sessions of the 18th CPC Central Committee both issuing reform measures on rigorous and democratic legislative systems and mechanisms. The NPC and its Standing Committee have applied the CPC Central Committee's major decisions and arrangements to legislative work and adopted important measures to boost institutional development and improve systems and mechanisms. In March 2015, the Third Session of the 12th NPC passed the revised Legislation Law, which effectively institutionalized rigorous, democratic, and law-based legislation, refined the system of public solicitation on draft laws, and added provisions on appraisals prior to passing bills. The NPC and its Standing Committee have formulated a raft of documents related to work processes, including regulations on introducing and deliberating legislative items, provisions on the drafting of important laws by special committees of the NPC and working bodies of the Standing Committee, rules governing the work of local legislative outreach offices of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, and processes for soliciting opinions on draft laws as well as reviewing and filing laws and regulations and judicial interpretations. These institutional developments are the results of gradually accumulating experience of, and achieving progress in, whole-process democracy. They embody the principal requirements and contain all the elements of whole-process democracy.
On March 8, 2021, a plenary session of the Constitution and Law Committee of the 13th National People's Congress was held at which draft amendments of the NPC's Organic Law and procedural rules were reviewed in line with the suggestions of the deputies. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER ZHANG YUWEI
Based on these innovations in system integration, in March 2021, the Fourth Session of the 13th NPC passed the revised Organic Law of the National People's Congress, which stipulates, "The NPC and its Standing Committee shall uphold 'whole-process democracy,' maintain close ties with the people, solicit people's advice and suggestions, fully express the will of the people, and safeguard people's rights and interests." It also requires NPC deputies to "fully exert their role in whole-process democracy." These new provisions provide a legal basis and guarantee for strengthening and improving legislative work in the new era. Through a series of legal norms, institutional arrangements, and design measures, whole-process democracy is implemented throughout the whole chain and in every aspect of legislative work, including bill approval, drafting, deliberation, argumentation, evaluation, supervision, and dissemination, so that the legislative process becomes a model that reflects democracy in its most extensive, honest, and useful form.
II. Practicing whole-process democracy through participation in legislation by NPC deputies
NPC deputies are members of the highest organ of state power who represent the interests and will of the people. Ensuring that NPC deputies fully participate in legislation, that they play their role as a bridge to the people, and that they remain rooted among the people enables us to utilize the institutional advantages of whole-process democracy as well as to legislate based on people's views, feelings, and ideas in order to benefit them.
A consultative discussion on the draft Stamp Tax Law of the People's Republic of China is held between the legislative outreach office and the taxation bureau of Kunshan, March 19, 2021. As of June 2021, the Kunshan legislative outreach office has completed 19 consultations on draft laws. PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE KUNSHAN TAXATION BUREAU
NPC deputies directly exercise national legislative power by deliberating and voting at congresses.
Since 2015, the NPC Standing Committee has submitted important legal bills for deliberation to the National People's Congress each year. During the current 13th National People's Congress, the First Session deliberated and adopted constitutional amendments and the Supervision Law; the Second Session deliberated and adopted the Foreign Investment Law; the Third Session deliberated and adopted the Civil Code and the Decision of the National People's Congress on Establishing and Improving the Legal System and Enforcement Mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to Safeguard National Security; and the Fourth Session deliberated and adopted the Organic Law of the National People's Congress, Rules of Procedure of the National People's Congress, and Decision of the National People's Congress on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. These are all instances of NPC deputies directly participating in national legislative power on behalf of the people. The law stipulates that one month before a meeting is held, draft laws must be distributed to deputies so that they can collectively study and discuss them. This ensures that deputies fully understand and conduct high-quality reviews of bills put before them.
Efforts are made to coordinate the handling of proposals by NPC deputies and the preparation of legislative plans as well as to ensure items of concern to the people are on the legislative agenda.
The NPC and its Standing Committee thoroughly study proposals and suggestions submitted by deputies and strive for the timely inclusion in legislative planning and work of important legislative items that reflect matters of greatest concern to the people and that relate to the people's vital interests. In March 2021, all 506 deputies' bills delivered by the Presidium of the Third Session of the 13th NPC were reviewed. Of these, 22 legislative items raised in 118 bills were passed or are under review, and 58 legislative items raised in 168 bills were included in legislative programs or plans. When formulating the special legislative plan, the opinions of deputies and various parties were given comprehensive consideration before amendments to the Wildlife Protection Law, the Law on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, and the Emergency Response Law were included in the legislative amendments work plan to strengthen the rule of law in public health.
Close contact is maintained between the NPC Standing Committee and deputies to encourage their participation in its legislative work.
Since the 13th National People's Congress was elected in 2018, 900 deputies have been invited to attend Standing Committee meetings and deliberate legal bills. Discussions and exchanges with invited deputies during Standing Committee meetings are an innovation of the current NPC Standing Committee. It has established and improved mechanisms for Standing Committee members to contact deputies and report deputy outreach work to Standing Committee's CPC Leadership Group meetings and its chairperson meetings. Members of the Standing Committee have directly contacted 439 deputies, of whom 92 deputies were contacted by 16 members of the chairperson meeting. Thanks to these mechanisms, deputies have closer contact with the NPC Standing Committee, channels for expressing opinions and suggestions have become smoother, and participation in legislative work is more effective.
The opinions of NPC deputies are considered and incorporated during all aspects of legal drafting, argumentation, and research.
When drafting laws, the legislative opinions of deputies are considered and incorporated, with deputies invited to participate in legislative work such as research, seminars, and assessments before draft laws are passed. For example, during the drafting of the Amendment to the Criminal Law (11), 18 proposals submitted by 533 deputies during the Third Session of the 13th National People's Congress were considered, and deputies' suggestions were incorporated on issues such as the age of criminal responsibility for minors, strengthening protection of the private sector, revising provisions on securities crimes, money laundering, and obstructing the containment of infectious diseases, and formulating guidelines for punishing assaults against police officers. Opinions on draft laws are usually solicited from deputies via the Chinese National People's Congress website, and some important draft laws are sent to all deputies for their comments. Draft laws on specialist subjects may be issued to representatives of relevant professions or fields for their comments and suggestions. Following the initial review of the Yangtze River Protection Law, the Data Security Law, and the Personal Information Protection Law, leading deputies of each of the relevant proposals were asked in writing to submit their opinions. When the Standing Committee deliberates draft laws, it carefully considers the opinions and suggestions of invited deputies, which are included in the relevant legislative documents.
III. Implementing the concepts, principles, and requirements of whole-process democracy in every aspect of legislation
Implementing the concepts, principles, and requirements of whole-process democracy in every aspect of legislation is an inherent requirement for developing socialist democracy and an objective requirement to abide by the principle of the rule of law and implement relevant provisions of the Organic Law of the National People's Congress. From raising legislative items to reviewing draft laws, from drafting to evaluation and argumentation, from extensively soliciting opinions to filing and review, and from legislative announcements to publicity and education of the rule of law, the entire process of and every link in legislative work is a visible and vivid manifestation of whole-process democracy. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, it has been made easier and more convenient for the national legislature and the people to interact with each other, and people's enthusiasm to participate in legislative work in accordance with the law has increased accordingly. New steps are being taken and new progress is being made on a constant basis in developing rigorous, democratic, and lawful legislation in China.
Legislative programs and plans are formulated systematically.
Legislative programs and plans are the blueprints for legislative work. During their formulation, opinions are sought from relevant departments of the CPC Central Committee, departments and related agencies of the State Council, the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the standing committees of people's congresses of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, as well as group organizations, industry associations, and chambers of commerce. Views are also solicited through seminars and in writing from research institutes, enterprises, public institutions, deputies of people's congresses, members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and experts and scholars. Mutual discussions are followed by methodical assessments and argumentation. The starting point of the work is the proposal of a legislative item, which leads to democratic and empirical decisions. The aim is to ensure that legislative work constantly adapts to new conditions in economic and social development and people's changing expectations.
The effectiveness of legislative research, discussions, demonstrations, and evaluations is constantly being enhanced.
Legislative investigations and discussions are compulsory activities when drafting and deliberating laws in China. Multi-level, multi-party, and multi-channel investigations are conducted to ascertain reallife circumstances. Multiple rounds of discussions are then held involving invited agencies, groups, experts, NPC deputies, and people from all walks of life relevant to the law, so that their opinions and suggestions can be heard. Argumentations aim to address more specialist issues by soliciting the views of experts and business departments. Appraisals are a special assessment process of the feasibility of major systems in draft laws, the timing of new laws, the impact of promulgating laws, and the possible problems that may arise. According to the Legislation Law, appraisal meetings are usually required to assess new laws. The effectiveness of research, deliberation, argumentation, and assessment methods has a bearing on the effectiveness of whole-process democracy, so they must be rigorously designed and logically deployed to ensure their efficacy.
Full advantage is made of the role of legislative outreach offices in directly soliciting the views and ideas of the public.
Local legislative outreach offices are used to directly solicit the public's feelings, opinions, and ideas, and they are a tangible manifestation of our attempts to create new forms and expand modes of democracy in China. To implement the requirements set out in the Resolution of the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee established four local legislative outreach offices in 2015, including one in Hongqiao neighborhood in Shanghai's Changning District. In 2020, it established a further six local legislative outreach offices, including those at the offices of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of Kunshan City in Jiangsu Province, at the offices of people's congress deputies in Zhengding Town in Hebei Province, and at China University of Political Science and Law, bringing the total number to 10. As of June 2021, these legislative outreach offices have provided nearly 6,600 suggestions relating to 109 draft laws and legislative work plans, many of which have been used following careful analysis and research. In 2020, the outreach office in Hongqiao neighborhood in Shanghai held more than 180 consultation meetings about 16 draft laws, which were attended by more than 3,000 people. In 2015, a proposal from the Hongqiao outreach office regarding the Draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law, which stated that, "The entities that can apply for personal safety protection orders should include grassroots organizations," was incorporated in the law.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Internet technology has been used to facilitate communication and interactions between members of the public and legislative agencies. During the review of the Draft Law on Medical Practitioners, members of the Legislative Affairs Commission used video conferencing to contact local legislative outreach offices in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Jianghai District in Jiangmen, Guangdong Province, in order to understand legislative requirements from the perspective of people on the frontline.
The work of soliciting the public's opinions on draft laws is continuously being promoted.
Soliciting opinions from the public on draft laws is important for promoting open legislation, expanding the public's orderly participation in legislation, and having democratic legislation. In accordance with the Legislation Law and Rules of Procedure of the National People's Congress, for bills deliberated by the NPC Standing Committee and bills to be submitted to the NPC for deliberation, draft laws and their explanations will be released to the public for comments no less than 30 days after meetings of the Standing Committee. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, 187 draft laws have been released to the public for comments, and approximately 1.1 million people have submitted more than 3 million opinions and suggestions, with many important views having been adopted. In the process of compiling the Civil Code, the public was consulted 10 times, and more than a million opinions were received from 425,000 people. Some important draft laws that impact the vital interests of the people, such as the Amendment to the Criminal Law (11), the Draft Individual Income Tax Law, the Law on the Protection of Minors, the Veterans Support Law, and the Copyright Law, aroused widespread public concern and received tens of thousands of comments. These opinions from the public were carefully analyzed during the legislative review process, and pertinent views were incorporated into the draft laws in order to respond to social concerns in a timely manner and maximize legislative consensus. Our efforts to solicit opinions from the public and incorporate comments were also reported back to the public in a timely manner through various means, including news reports and press conferences involving a spokesperson from the Legislative Affairs Commission.
NPC deputy Liang Qianjuan (left) speaks with local resident Shi Haiping in Shitan Village, Huixian County, Gansu Province, February 23, 2021. NPC deputies are members of the highest organ of state power. They represent the interests and will of the people, come from the people, and are rooted amongst the people, and they represent the bridge between the public and the NPC's legislative work. Gathering ideas and suggestions from the public is a task that every deputy performs. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER ZHANG ZHIMIN
Full advantage is made of the supervisory functions of the legal and regulatory filing and review processes.
The Legislation Law and the Supervision Law stipulate that citizens and organizations may submit recommendations for the review of administrative regulations they feel are inconsistent with China's Constitution or laws. Since the 12th NPC in 2013, the Legislative Affairs Commission has investigated 8,040 review recommendations from individual citizens and institutions, to which it has also proposed responses. Since the public is most entitled to comment on the implementation of administrative regulations and other normative documents, our filing and review work has established a legislative participation platform for the public to express their views, thereby helping to maintain the unity of the socialist legal system and guarantee the legal rights of citizens to democratic supervision.
Information on the NPC and legislation is clearly communicated to publicize the implementation of whole-process democracy.
Implementing whole-process democracy in legislation is an important element of the work of the NPC and the legislative process, and it exhibits the strength of socialist democracy. In July 2019, the Legislative Affairs Commission appointed a spokesperson to release information and answer questions on legislation. Over the past two years, our spokesperson has held eight on-site press conferences and given 19 written interviews and speeches, which has played a positive role in strengthening publicity and education on the rule of law and promoting the implementation of laws. The legislature is constantly improving its communication efforts at the three key stages of before, during, and after draft law reviews, in order to clearly release information on legislation and whole-process democracy. The aims are to help people at home and abroad better understand the legislative practices of whole-process democracy, increase people's enthusiasm toward participating in legislation, and continuously strengthen their belief in the importance of upholding the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics.
IV. Important principles for implementing whole-process democracy
The system of people's congresses is a fundamental political institutional arrangement that upholds the CPC's leadership, the people's position as the masters of the country, and the rule of law. The National People's Congress and its Standing Committee have important roles and responsibilities in the historic process of developing socialist democracy. To implement the important concept of whole-process democracy and promote the high-quality development of legislative work in the new era, the following principles need to be assimilated.
We must uphold the CPC's leadership over legislative work.
The CPC's leadership provides a fundamental political guarantee for the implementation of whole-process democracy. The history of socialist democracy and of the rule of law in China have proved that it is only under the leadership of the CPC that state affairs can be managed in accordance with law, the rule of law can be strictly enforced, the people can be masters of the country, and the rule of law can be systematically advanced in state affairs and people's lives. We must forever uphold the Party's leadership over legislative work, fully implement the Party's basic theory, guideline, and policy, be guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, learn to understand and practice Xi Jinping Thought on the rule of law, strictly implement the system of seeking instructions and reporting on major legislative issues, and use legal procedures to make the Party's views the will of the state and written into law. This will allow us to unify the ethos of the CPC Central Committee with the rule of law and to unify political and legal outcomes.
We must uphold China's people-centered philosophy.
The realization of whole-process democracy is for the people, and the implementation of whole-process democracy depends on the people. The people of this country are its broadest and deepest foundation. Socialism with Chinese characteristics is entering a new era, and people have increasing demands in the areas of democracy, rule of law, fairness, justice, security, and the environment. When the people ask, legislation should respond. It is essential to listen to the people, pool their wisdom, respond to their expectations, reflect their thoughts and wishes in the design of the legal system, and use the advantage of whole-process democracy to ensure our people lead happier, more satisfying, and more secure lives.
We must continue to seek truth from facts.
Seeking truth from facts and proceeding from China's national conditions and reallife circumstances in everything we do are practical bases for implementing whole-process democracy through legislative work. We must accurately grasp our current national conditions and development reality, comprehend the principles behind legislation and democratic development, methodically and rationally establish the systems and mechanisms for whole-process democracy, conduct in-depth legislative investigations, fully understand real-life situations, propose considered solutions, and make legislation more pertinent and practicable, take advantage of the important role of legislation in modernizing the national governance system and governance capabilities, and provide high-quality legal support to implement the "five-sphere integrated plan" and the "four-pronged comprehensive strategy."
We must uphold the principle of the rule of law.
Whole-process democracy is inseparable from the rule of law. Without the support and assurance provided by the rule of law, whole-process democracy is not viable. We must continue to promote rigorous, democratic, and lawful legislation. We must strictly abide by legal procedures, expand our forms of legislation, improve our legal system and institutional mechanisms for practicing whole-process democracy, and aspire to better unity between the leadership of the Party, the position of the people as masters of the country, and law-based governance by effectively utilizing the system of people's congresses, so as to create a comprehensive institutional guarantee for whole-process democracy.
Legislation workers have been greatly honored and motivated by mentions of legislative work and legislative outreach offices in President Xi Jinping's speeches on whole-process democracy. We are determined to study and implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. Focusing on the overall objectives of establishing a Chinese socialist legal system and a country built on socialist rule of law, we will strengthen legislation in key and emerging areas and those involving foreign parties. We will employ more varied democratic means and create smoother democratic channels to implement whole-process democracy throughout the legislative process, ensure high-quality legislative process in the new era, and provide legal impetus and institutional guarantees for building a modern socialist China.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 13, 2021)