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Experiencing Growth of Chinese Democracy

China News Digest, 13 March 2002

BEIJING, March 13 (Xinhua) -- When I was speaking at the National People's Congress (NPC) annual session for the first time in 1983, I was nervous and dared not to say anything that may sound impolite or sharp, said Shen Licheng, a village Party chief and NPC deputy for four straight terms.

I had complaints against my superiors, but I dared not to say them for fear of being revenged. Democracy was something fearful for a man who had gone through the turbulent Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Less than two decades later, Shen, a deputy from Cishan Village, Wu'an County, in north China's Hebei Province, said he has learned to enjoy debate on the NPC session, which gives him the greatest sense of achievement.

On these occasions, the deputies would make suggestions on government work and raise interpellations over issues of public concern. Related authorities have to answer for these suggestions and interpellations item by item.

Many of the deputies are mayors or governors. But they have to listen to any criticism over their jobs by fellow deputies. No one indeed cares about their positions, Shen said.

According to him, emancipation of the mind is a gradual process, while China's over two decades of efforts to build democracy and rule of law is gradually paying off.

He remembers that during a session of the seventh NPC, a Guangdong deputy raised a motion for using secret ballot in electing state leaders. The motion was adopted and has been in force since then.

Progress is everywhere.

Few local governments used to consult the local people's congress before revising the local budget. Today, they can not spend a single penny outside the budget without the approval of the local legislature.

A dissenting vote by deputies used to be unthinkable. But it is no news today. Several local government departments have had their work reports vetoed at local legislatures.

Legislators' right to voice people's concern, to make suggestions and intervene in public affairs are protected by the law of deputies to local and national people's congress.

Deputies' intervention, in whatever form, is generally answered. That has encouraged deputies to keep on their efforts until the problems are solved, Shen said.

At the end of every year, local legislatures would launch intensive investigations into the job of local governments for possible flaws, exercising their supervision rights.

Individual deputies could also conduct their own investigations into issues of special concern to them. Shen said he himself had done investigations into issues such as raising farmers' incomes, irrigation in arid areas and rural education.

For NPC deputies, one of their most important jobs is to do a good investigation and come to the annual session with a high quality proposal.

To have their proposals adopted by the session, deputies have to do a good representation at the group discussions so that they can win at least 30 signatures for one motion as required by the law.

The atmosphere at these discussions is like boiling water. It is really an irresistible trend of democracy, Shen said.

The deputies' role in China's political life is reflected in two figures: 15 of the 16 laws made by China in 2001 are based on bills and motions submitted by deputies.

In 1983, NPC deputy was a mere honor for me. Today it is a duty, which I have learned to fulfill for the nation and the people, said the veteran deputy.

According to him, China's progress in building democracy and the rule of law is a direct result of the determination shown by top leaders including Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin.

Indications of China's increasing democracy are not limited to annual NPC sessions. Direct election at the village level has spread the seed of democracy to grassroots China.

In Shen's village, five village heads have been recalled by villagers for being arbitrary in running village affairs.

Awareness of democracy and the rule of law is getting increasingly strong among villagers. Democracy is gaining prevalence quietly but inevitably in China, Shen said. Enditem