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When "whole-process people's democracy" comes to the public: story of local legislative outreach offices


"Now we can discuss national affairs at our doorstep." said villagers in Guandong Village, Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, Liuzhou City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, 1,675 kilometers away from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. When they talk about national affairs, they mean participating in legislation.

As local legislative outreach offices (LLOOs), the Sanjiang County People’s Congress Standing Committee has identified 13 units, including Guandong Village, as legislative information collection points. Villagers' suggestions can be conveyed to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress through a direct submission mechanism.

The establishment of LLOO is a requirement put forward by the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC). In October 2014, the Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Major Issues Pertaining to Comprehensively Promoting the Rule of Law proposed: "Improve the mechanism for soliciting legislative opinions from grassroots-level people's congresses and establish a LLOO system."

One year later, the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress designated four units, including the Hongqiao Subdistrict Office of Changning District, Shanghai, and the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of Lintao County, Gansu Province, as the first batch of pilot units of the LLOO.

In November 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed for the first time that "people's democracy is a whole-process people's democracy" when inspecting the LLOOs in Hongqiao Street, Shanghai.

In 2020, Sanjiang County was identified as the second batch of LLOOs of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the NPC. It is also the only ethnic autonomous county with national-level LLOOs.

2024 is the 10th year since the establishment of the first batch of national-level LLOOs. The number of national LLOOs has increased to 45, covering 31 provinces across the country.

These LLOOs provide a wealth of input to the nation's legislative bodies. The latest statistics show that since March 2023, the Standing Committee of the NPC has solicited 9,394 suggestions and opinions from the public through the LLOOs on 27 draft laws and draft legislative plans.

In an interview with Southern Weekly in February 2023, Sun Zhenping, then director of the Legal Affairs Committee Office of the Standing Committee of the NPC (currently deputy director of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the NPC), said that the area covered by LLOOs has shifted from the initial southeastern coastal areas, economically developed areas, and urban areas to border areas, northeastern regions and rural areas, and the covered population is also gradually increasing. “This promotes people's participation in the country's legislation and is a vivid practice of whole-process people's democracy,” he said.

A task can’t be accomplished overnight

How to explain the role of a "LLOO"? In July 2015, the Hongqiao Subdistrict Office in Changning District, Shanghai became one of the first batch of LLOOs, and encountered its first difficulty soon.

According to Liang Yingyan, an official of the Hongqiao Subdistrict Working Committee of the Changning District People’s Congress, “if you don’t know how the contact point works, you won’t be able to give suggestions at all.”

Before soliciting legislative opinions, Hongqiao Subdisstrict Office visited local communities and solicited public opinions on how to introduce a LLOO.

A resident drew a cartoon, which was posted on the wall of the LLOO exhibition hall. The picture shows that on one side is the street's landmark broadcasting building, on the other side is the Great Hall of the People, connecting with a rainbow bridge on which a pigeon holds a letter in the mouth.

On March 4, 2024, Liang Yingyan said, “the opinions and suggestions of residents on legislation can be directly submitted to the top legislature through the LLOO.”

After being recruited as the first batch of information officers, Wu Xinhui, director of Shanghai Kangming Law Firm, shared her experience of this system.

In September 2015, the LLOO of Hongqiao Street received a notice from the National People's Congress for the first time, soliciting opinions on the Anti-Domestic Violence Law (Draft). At that time, Wu Xinhui was representing a case in which a paralyzed old man in his nineties was beaten by his daughter.

Based on this, Wu Xinhui proposed that the elderly should also be included in the protection targets of the anti-domestic violence law, and suggested adding legal provisions to protect the elderly from domestic violence. After the law was officially promulgated, she found this suggestion was adopted and included in the law.

Before this case, the legislature also had other ways for soliciting opinions.

Feng Yujun, executive vice president of the Association of Legislation of the China Law Society and a professor at the Law School of Renmin University of China, told reporter that when making legislation, the authorities will solicit opinions from all levels on "whether a certain law should be enacted, how it should be enacted, and when it should be promulgated."

However, according to Qiu Yangjun, deputy director of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of Sanjiang County, some government departments have a lot of daily work, and they are worried about troubles "if they say something bad", so they will say they have "no opinions", while residents with no government positions can just say bluntly.

It can’t be accomplished overnight in soliciting full public opinions after establishing LLOOs.

In May and November 2015, the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of Jianghai District, Jiangmen City, Guangdong Province became the LLOO for the Standing Committee of the Jiangmen City People's Congress and the Standing Committee of the Guangdong Provincial People's Congress. In July 2020, the Jianghai District People's Congress Standing Committee was identified as the LLOO of the Legal Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Li Yanhua, a staff member at the contact point, told reporter that at the beginning, the office of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of Jianghai District was located in the government office building, "so residents have no idea where to express their opinions." When posting notices for soliciting opinions on the official WeChat account, there are only a few dozen views, with almost no replies.

Through practice, she found that people are more motivated to participate in laws that involve their own interests. Therefore, it is particularly important to make a plan at first. It should determine the objects, scope, and methods of soliciting opinions based on the characteristics of draft laws and regulations or legislative projects.

When the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of Jianghai District solicited opinions on the Rural Collective Economic Organization Law (draft), the discussion was heated. The farmers and village cadres who participated in the meeting "were about to start a quarrel". This law regulates the rural collective economy and involves the qualifications of shareholder members. One of the highlights of debate is whether rural residents who do not live in rural areas can enjoy collective economic dividends.

Currently, Jianghai district’s LLOOs have completed a standardized legislative opinion collection process. As of February 2024, the "three-level" legislative contact point at the municipal, provincial and national levels has completed a total of 82 legislative opinion collection tasks and reported 1,875 opinions and suggestions. Among the 64 legislative items that have been reviewed and passed, 1,204 opinions and suggestions have been submitted.


Listen to scholars, or listen more to the ordinary people?

After working at a LLOO for nearly 3 years, Liang Yingyan found that the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress conducts differentiated consultation for law making, based on the regional character and resource endowment.

In recent years, Shanghai’s  Hongqiao Subdistrict Office was entrusted to launch consultation on Value-added Tax Law, Financial Stability Law and Customs Tariff Law.

In her opinion, the reason why the consultations are focusing on the financial field is that “Shanghai is an international center”.

At the end of 2023, the Hong Qiao sbudistrict was entrusted a new task, launching the consultation about the amended draft of Frontier Health and Quarantine Law. Liang felt shock at the beginning, but the doubt soon vanished: there are many residential area for foreigners in the subdistrict, as well as international schools, foreign enterprises and 21 consulates general in Shanghai.

“Quite a lot people enter and exit China from Shanghai,” said Liang.

As the first batch of LLOO, the subdistrict felt pressure from competition from its peers.

Compared with the legislative contact points at city level, subdistrict has limited resources. Since 2022, the  Hongqiao Subdistrict Office have strengthened the connection with 25 legislative contact points at city level to receive opinion from the public.

During the consultation, Liang noted that the residents are usually emotional when giving opinions and focus more on the actual result of the law. However, experts or legal workers in the subdistrict would put more attention on the accuracy of word and whether the law can be implemented.

Who should the subdistrict office listen to? The public? Or the experts or legal workers?

“It seems that the public have more weight,” said Liang. In her opinion, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress will organize seminars with a large number of legal experts. At the grassroots level, public’s opinions are more important.

In some experts’ opinion, LLOO is the most important form of whole-process people's democracy.

Tan Huosheng, Deputy Director of School of Social Sciences of Tsinghua University, had written an article to explain whole-process people's democracy. In his opinion, the “whole” means all people are involved in the process of democracy. In addition, the channel for vulnerable groups and marginal population to attend democracy should be available constitutionally and fundamentally.

In addition, the “wholeness” also needs to be found in democratic elections, democratic decision-making, democratic management and democratic supervision at central government, local governments and grassroots level, which cover legislation, administration and social life.

In Feng’s opinion, the whole-process people's democracy is not only seen in the work of National People’s Congress, but also manifested in governmental work, judicial work of the CPPCC and more.

“The society is more complex, which requires highly specialized skills,” said Feng. He used to give suggestion to the work of CPPCC.

The understanding and feeling were also found in the 2024 China’s Two Sessions. “I have deeply understanding of the whole-process people's democracy,” Liu Xiya, deputy to the 14th National People’s Congress from Chongqing published an article on her WeChat account on March 3.

From sending to ordering

As the introduction of whole-process people's democracy, the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress further require the local legislative outreach offices (LLOOs), "to extend their work from soliciting opinions during a legislation process to soliciting opinions before and after the process".

In September 2020, the Anti-food Waste Law (Draft) had not yet been publicly consulted. The local legislative outreach office in Jianghai District, Jiangmen City, where Li Yanhua was working, received a research assignment on stopping food and beverage waste sent by the legal affairs committee.

The research outlined three issues: the state quo of food waste in the region, the practices, experiences and problems of preventing food waste in the region, as well as the opinions and suggestions on the special legislative work to stop food and beverage waste. Ultimately, Jianghai local legislative outreach office accomplished a 15-page research report with over 7,000 words.

By institutional mechanism, according to Feng Yujun, LLOOs belong to the legislative system. However, fundamentally, it possesses strong attributes of grassroots-level governance and democracy.

Sun Long agreed and noted that legislation needs to follow three principles -- scientific legislation, democratic legislation and legislation in accordance with the law. Building LLOOs is "mainly about following the principle of democratic legislation".

In 2022, "improve working mechanisms for drawing on public opinion and pooling the wisdom of the people and ensure that local legislative outreach offices are well-run" was written in the report of the 20th CPC National Congress. The very chapter was  in the section of Advancing Whole-Process People’s Democracy and Ensuring that the People Run the Country, rather in the one of Exercising Law-Based Governance on All Fronts and Advancing the Rule of Law in China.

Until this moment, “local legislative outreach offices” was only in the party documents.

In 2023, the amended legislative law clarified that the working organs of the Standing Committee of the NPC shall set up local legislative outreach offices in accordance with actual needs. According to Feng, writing this into the law would be beneficial to legalize and standardize LLOOs.

After nearly a decade, many of them are now facing a common problem, namely, how to keep the people's enthusiasm for the national legislation and high participation all the time?  

Li Yanhua is deeply impressive by the issue. The Standing Committee of the NPC had issued Foreign Sovereign Immunity Law (Draft) to collect opinions but with very few participants. Li found the scholars from Sun Yat-sen University who proposed just over twenty suggestions.

The approach of Sanjiang County is posting proposers’ photos, whose opinions and suggestions had been adopted after comparison and those who put forward proposals on the bulletin board at the local landmark square, a move to keep people's enthusiasm. A Qiu Yangjun’s acquaintance dragged his friend to the square to see his suggestions, saying “Look, I made the suggestion.”  

The NPC also made changes, from issueing orders to accepting orders from different regions.

Earlier in 2024, the Standing Committee of the NPC sent the legislation plans to LLOOs, and the LLOOs choose among the plans to solicit opinions according to the region’s reality. According to Qiu, the move will be more targeted, "truly encourage people to participate in the legislation".

Many interviewees said that currently, the NPC Standing Committee has not introduced a mechanism in assessing the work by the LLOOs, such as opinions and suggestions reported and adopted.

In Qiu's words, in remoted areas like Sanjiang County  it is more important to practice whole-process people's democracy, "rather than falling into a competition over number of opinions solicited and adopted."

He said that Sanjiang County has compiled the Medium and Long Term Development Plan for Local Legislative Outreach Offices. The next move will be to build a platform for ethnic minority people in six counties from provinces of Guangxi, Hunan and Yunnan to express their demands and reflect public opinion. At the same time, local authorities will expand the regional collaboration. Based on serving national legislation, it will expand the collaboration to matters such as supervision by local People's Congress, popularization and enforcement of laws, and grassroots-level governance. Thus, regional collaborative legislation can be deployed and promoted in the same way as the regional development.

In Qiu's view, local legislative outreach offices reach to remote areas such as Sanjiang County, connecting the last kilometer of the implementation of whole-process people's democracy.  

Source:Southern Weekly

Editor: Olivia, Steven, Will, Alice, Zhang Ruijun (intern)

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