Behind China’s myth of ‘whole-process democracy’

The Party sets ‘the tone’ with ‘tight control’ and the only direct elections are at the grassroots level

China’s National People’s Congress or the NPC and the People’s Political Consultative Conference offer an annual refresher course on how democracy is practiced under the Communist Party.

Known as the “Two Sessions,” the meetings of representatives chosen through what Beijing calls “democratic elections” started in Beijing this week with nearly 3,000 NPC delegates gathering in the Great Hall of the People.

The NPC is the largest legislature in the world and nominally the highest authority in China. But its delegates are chosen not through direct elections but by provincial people’s congresses or electoral colleges in 35 provinces or special jurisdictions. 

The only direct elections are at the county and township levels.

By law, potential delegates to the People’s Congresses can be nominated and recommended by voters and groups. But they must be approved by the Communist Party.

Media briefing

Lou Qinjian, a spokesperson for the second session of the 14th National People’s Congress, pointed out at a media briefing earlier this week that the work of the NPC must follow “six important principles.”

They were proposed by Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Party, in 2021, and the first one is:

We must adhere to the leadership of the CCP [and] make the NPC a political organ that consciously adheres to the leadership of the CCP.

Despite the Party’s tight control over the selection of delegates, rare independents with dissenting views have managed to slip through at local levels. Several of them spoke to Voice of America.

Flagging up stalled reforms to the political system. Photo: Xinhua

Huang Songhai, a former independent delegate in 2007 to the National People’s Congress from Poyang County in Jiangxi Province, told VOA that efforts to reform the process have been mostly frustrated:

Our election is fake. Of course, we are making a bit of progress. But basically, it is still fake.

Yao Lifa, a former delegate to the NPC from Qianjiang City in Hubei Province, ran as an independent candidate and was elected at the county level in 1998. He told VOA that in recent years, public enthusiasm to run for office has declined:

We have had elections so many times, but what is the outcome? What is the impact? What is the impact on society, our class, or me personally? I am not so satisfied, or even dissatisfied.

Yao conceded that the space for independent electioneering, campaigning, and volunteering for candidates is shrinking.

House arrest

Wang Xiuzhen, who ran as an independent for local People’s Congresses in 2011 and 2021, told VOA that authorities quash candidates who seek office without the Party nomination:

After I ran, I was completely suppressed. They took me from our community, from my home, to the countryside, to the suburbs. It’s like putting me under surveillance and house arrest. 

“And then, I wasn’t allowed to come back from there until after the election,” Wang said.

She has since been placed under surveillance during this year’s Two Sessions “as if I’m a dangerous person,” adding:

[I am] always being watched. Now, they are watching me again. There are always people stationed in front of my house, and they follow me whenever I come out.

Xi Jinping has tightened the Party’s control in China. Photo: Wikimedia

Xi, who in 2022 became China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, proposed in 2019 what he called a “whole-process people’s democracy.”

State-run People’s Daily defined this process as integrated “law-based democratic elections, consultations, decision-making, management, and oversight through a series of laws and institutional arrangements.”

Ye Jinghuan, who ran as an independent delegate in Beijing in 2021, told VOA that China’s “whole-process people’s democracy” is flawed.

She said improvements are needed, including judicial independence, and that NPC delegates should have their own powers. Ye added:

[Now] they exercise very little real power. The authorities set the tone first, and then everyone raises their hands [to vote on it] and that’s it.

Slow progress

Despite the lack of democracy, she is not giving up. 

Ye stressed that elections are all about participation, and everyone must be willing to contribute to whatever progress can be made.

Yang Ming is a producer at Voice of America.

This article is republished courtesy of VOA. Read the original article here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.