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Grassroots Communities Need More than just the Vote

The democratic decision and supervision procedures within China's villages needs to improve despite the villages having already gained autonomy, say officials from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.


As integral parts of their autonomy, the creation and implementation of democratic decision making, management and supervision processes still lag far behind the establishment of democratic elections, said Wang Jinhua, director of the Rural Affairs Division under the ministry's Department of Construction of Basic-level Government and Community.


As the Organic Law of Villagers' Committees has been effective for five years, a standard direct election system has been formed in most Chinese villages, Wang told China Daily yesterday.


However, he said: "If ordinary people cannot have a say in their village's decision making process, any effort to promote the building of democracy will fall short."


Wang said often, the will of the people is not fully reflected by village committees' decisions, while some committee members tend to forget their responsibility of exercising legal power for those who elected them.


Hence, a supervision system led by local people's congresses needs to be created to promote the transparency of village committee management, he said.


Voters have been encouraged to actively supervise the actions of the leaders they selected, according to law. And the elected leaders risk losing their posts if they do not properly represent the people.


On September 17, a village head was recalled by local residents in Zhejiang Province's Wenling as he allegedly sought personal gain by taking advantage of his position. More than half of the village residents voted down his performance and he was then dismissed from the post, according to the procedures of the Organic Law of Villagers' Committees.


Chinese farmers have shown great enthusiasm in assuming their political rights, with an average turnout of above 90 per cent in village committee elections, Li Xueju, minister of civil affairs, said in early September when meeting visiting former US President Jimmy Carter.


Carter said: "One of the most exciting developments in China in recent years is the confidence villagers are developing in their local governments because they are allowed to determine who their local leaders will be."


The Chinese Government invited the Carter Center, which has engaged in promoting grassroots democracy across the world, help standardize the village election process in 1997.


Many villages have created very good practices for the democratic management of public affairs, Carter said.


(China Daily November 5, 2003)


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