Shenzhen Lays Ambitious Plans for Democratic Politics

By Yang Xingyun
Published: 2008-06-18

From Nation, page 17, issue no. 372, June 16, 2008
Translated by Liu Peng
Original article
: [Chinese]

Shenzhen – China's earliest base for economic reform – was poised to spearhead political reforms in the country after local government recently announcing a three-year roadmap for more democratic elections at various levels.

Between late May and early June, Shenzhen local government issued two documents outlining political reforms intended for the Special Economic Zone.

The suggested ideas included conducting democratic elections for the posts of district chiefs and deputy chiefs that would eventually pave the way for future city mayorial elections.

The City would also explore possibilities for direct elections of district level representatives for the People's Congress, and separation of powers in administration to investigate wrongdoings and assign penalties.

In addition, a nomination and voting mechanism for Shenzhen Municipal Committee of Communist Party of China (CPC) to select bureau-level leaderships had also been proposed.  

Retaining Uniqueness Through Reforms
The two documents – a reform draft dated May 23 to seek public opinion and a decree passed by the Shenzhen Municipal Party Committee on June 6 recommendating to uphold reforms and "socialism with Chinese characteristics" – were hailed by observers as "Shenzhen's democratic roadmap".

However, upon the announcement of impending political reforms, the City came under pressure and ridicule from leaders of other provinces, according to sources in the Shenzhen local government.

A city councilor, who was involved throughout the reform scheme drafting, told the EO that the latest move was aimed at strengthening Shenzhen's leading position in China's reform and opening-up, which started 30 years ago in this coastal city bordering Hong Kong.

Over the years, as preferential policies initially reserved for the Special Economic Zones were extended to other places across the country, Shenzhen has slowly lost its "unique appeal".

Local authorities and keen observers then proposed that the only way to maintain Shenzhen's uniqueness and to achieve another breakthrough would be channeling its accumulated advantages from economic reforms into spearheading political reforms. 

The newly-appointed chief of Guangdong province, Wang Yang, had also expressed his expectation for the City by saying: "Shenzhen should be comparable to other advanced international metropolis; it would be undermining to only compare Shenzhen to other domestic cities."

In fact, the EO learned that Shenzhen had already started experimenting with bureau-level leadership elections prior to publishing the reform scheme.

On May 12, the Shenzhen municipal committee held a plenary meeting attended by some 140 members, each of whom had one vote to select qualified candidates to fill the vacancies of four bureau directors.

The top ten candidates with the most votes would enter the competitive elections. They were then required to deliver an election speech at the meeting of the party's municipal standing committee, who then cast another round of votes. The top four candidates went on to head the bureaus.

A source from the Shenzhen Reforms Office said further reforms included enhancing the operation of the Shenzhen People's Congress' standing committee, such as to increase the frequency of meetings and number of representatives, change the way bills were reviewed and approved, train representatives to be sensitive of public opinion, and to prepare more seats in the public gallery for residents to follow municipal meetings in session.  

Reaction to Shenzhen Political Reforms 

Li Luoli was among the first to propose the establishment of Shenzhen political reform special zone.

Li is the vice-president of China Society of Economic Reform, vice-president and secretary-general of Comprehensive Development Institute. He was Shenzhen municipal office vice-director from 1988 to 1991, and between 1991 and 1993, he was deputy secretary-general of Shenzhen municipal committee of CPC. 

He illustrated six aspects that Shenzhen should pay attention to in order to advance its political reforms, below is the summary of his ideas:

1. Transparency and openness. To draw experiences from neighboring Hong Kong and other advanced nations, and to minimize government controls by cutting the number of matters needing official approval. Setting up electronic government services would lead to more transparency and public scrutiny of official transactions and approval processes, thus minimizing grey areas for corruption. Making public yearly plans and corresponding budgets also open for public assessment.

2. Intra-party reforms. Shenzhen should take the lead in carrying out CPC democratic reforms, such as initiating elections in townships to elect the local party secretary and disciplinary committee secretary. Town residents could nominate candidates while the local CPC committee would vet and short list two to compete in elections, the one with most votes would be the secretary, and the one with less be the disciplinary committee secretary. This proposal would not create a shake-up in party but would enhance the democratization process.

3. Legislature reforms. Drafted laws in Shenzhen should first be examined and approved by the local People's Political Consultative Conference (made up of members from CPC, eight other political parties, and representatives recommended by over 100 industrial associations) and then handed over to local People's Congress for approval.

4. Conserve judicial resources. Some experts suggested setting up "intermediation center" and mobilizing social forces like lawyers and oath commissioners to mediate social conflicts. As long as the mediation process and agreement reached conformed to the law, the local court could just affix a seal to legalize the agreement and this could save the judicial resources.

5. Enhance public participation. The local government, before making major policies, should first solicit public opinion through various channels, including interactive websites, public forums and publications in media.

6. Establish social monitoring mechanism. Let the public scrutinize, supervise and assess public administration and governance. Netizens in recent years have started doing that but there has been no consolidated or systematic mechanism to maximize the effectiveness of this public monitoring.