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SONG XIONGWEI: Consultative democracy connects government and society

| 2015-03-13 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


The Opinions on Strengthening the Construction of a Socialist Consultative Democracy (hereafter called The Opinions) recently issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) proposed pushing forward government consultation, stressing that we should strengthen government consultation by effectively advancing scientific democracy and making decisions according to the law, enhance transparency of decision-making and public participation, resolve direct interest issues that the people most care about, boost the transformation of government functions, and improve the capacity and level of government governance.

In the past, there were some problems with China’s government management in respects to emphasizing regulations and neglecting services, inefficient cooperation between the government and the public in public administration, unclear boundaries of rights, especially dim boundaries between the government and the market and society, severely damaging government credibility, and hampering the realization of governance. Pushing forward government consultation is therefore of great significance for promoting modernization of the national governance system and governance capacity, perfecting the consultative democracy system, strengthening the self-construction of the government and facilitating social harmony.


Three basic principles
Government consultation plays an important role in China’s socialist consultative democracy system.
All sorts of consultation mentioned in The Opinions are directly or indirectly related to the dialogue and consultation with the government. In addition, the government, especially at its grass-roots level, has made more contact with market players, social organizations and the masses. Abiding by principles is therefore necessary for promoting government consultation.

The first principle is to combine consultative democracy with law-based administration. On one hand, government consultation should be institutionalized through the rule of law to safeguard its initiative and normalization. On the other hand, the government should guarantee performing its duty according to law, preventing unnecessary consultation.

The second principle is to bring both central and local initiative into play. Local authorities should be encouraged to carry out reform and innovation in accordance with their actual situations under unified central leadership. Additionally, experience created by the local government in reform should be summarized and popularized.

The third principle is to focus on major points while comprehensively promoting government consultation. Not all problems can be resolved by the government through consultation. Special attention should be paid to major problems in present economic and social development, as well as important items concerning vital interests of the masses.


Operation of consultation
The Opinions outlined three methods for the implementation of government consultation that are of significance for market players, social organizations and the masses.

Matters to be negotiated should be formulated and publicized. Firstly, it is necessary to integrate the  content of negotiation determined in accordance with  existing laws and administrative regulations. For example, the Working Rules of the State Council explicitly require the State Council and its departments to perfect rules of administrative decision-making, making public participation, expert argumentation, risk assessment, legal investigation, and collective discussion necessary steps in decision-making.

Next, governments and government departments at all levels should explore matters to be discussed that are related to people’s vital interests and likely to cause great social influence before publicizing. A survey found that some provinces, including Guangdong and Hunan, have begun to seek matters to be negotiated with local characteristics.

The universality and pertinence of consultation should be strengthened. Government consultation should be further institutionalized. Aspects such as working bodies, operating procedures, deadlines and implementation of feedback mechanisms for dealing with proposals of deputies to the National People’s Congress and members of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference should be included in the government’s annual supervision work plan.

Meanwhile, the unilateral wisdom and capacity of the government are insufficient to deal with major problems concerning economic and social development in the pluralistic society. The pertinence of government consultation can be effectively promoted by including the public to make the government’s decision-making more beneficial to resolving social problems.

The government consultation mechanism should be perfected. Under the premise of knowing about matters to be negotiated, enough information is needed between consultative bodies to create conditions for full consultation. Information disclosure exerted by the government can give important play to the masses in participating in public affairs and supervising public rights. It can also unblock contacting channels between the government and the masses and expand routes of consultation.

In addition, the public and relevant stakeholders may actively give suggestions for government consultation. The Opinions stressed four government consultation mechanisms, aiming to  perfect the opinion collecting and feedback mechanism, further regulate the hearing mechanism, establish a sound decision-making consulting mechanism and further perfect a proposal-dealing mechanism. In fact, the public and relevant stakeholders may provide detailed and concrete suggestions on legislation and decision-making through legal channels. Moderate importance should be attached to the implementation and operating channels of the latter in a bid to improve the mechanism of government consultation.

Cooperative governance mechanism
Government consultation is a governance mechanism for co-governance between the government and society, which emphasizes that participation of the market, society and the public may become a new normal of government governance.


A cooperative governance mechanism is also needed in the internal government. The successful experiences of some developed countries suggest that importance should also be attached to consultation in the internal government. Cooperative governance of the internal government can be realized through consultation before and after decision-making between different departments of the government. It aims to better achieve the external consultation between the government and society, the public and market, promoting the credibility and executive power of the government.

Consultation inside the government is a governing thought of the cooperative government that is currently being discussed in academic circles at home and abroad. It can better integrate resources inside the government, unblock government information, coordinate behaviors of the government, and form a joint force in the government.

Consultation of the internal government mainly includes three aspects. Firstly, some complex social problems require many departments to jointly tackle through coordination. Secondly, effective communication and negotiation on financial and administrative powers of public affairs are needed in the process of equalization of public services. Thirdly, a public governance mechanism with the government acting as dominance and all parties participating in consultative governance should be established in the course of transformation of government functions, based on dealing well with relations between the government and the market, society and intermediaries.


Song Xiongwei is  from the Chinese Academy of Governance.