Pe­ti­tion­ing pro­gresses to­ward its end New stip­u­la­tions aim to raise aware­ness of the rule of law and in­crease the su­per­vi­sion over lower lev­els of govern­ment

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Pe­ti­tion­ing, also known as “letters and calls”, is China’s spe­cial way of po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion. It refers to cit­i­zens, le­gal en­ti­ties or other or­ga­ni­za­tions ad­vanc­ing sug­ges­tions, opin­ions and com­plaints to gov­ern­ments at all lev­els through letters, e-mails, faxes, tele­phone calls and vis­its; with the rel­e­vant ad­min­is­tra­tive depart­ment ad­dress­ing the is­sues raised in the pe­ti­tions ac­cord­ing to the coun­try’s laws and reg­u­la­tions.

It is un­de­ni­able that pe­ti­tions have played a role in po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion, ad­min­is­tra­tive mon­i­tor­ing, solic­it­ing pub­lic opin­ion and solv­ing dis­putes, but it is also un­de­ni­able that the pe­ti­tion­ing process is not with­out prob­lems, such as lo­cal au­thor­i­ties thwart­ing pe­ti­tion­ers’ com­plaints be­ing heard or people by­pass­ing au­thor­i­ties to file com­plaints at higher lev­els or re­ly­ing on pe­ti­tions in­stead of trust­ing the courts.

One sur­vey found that 90.5 per­cent of the pe­ti­tion­ers vis­it­ing the State Bureau for Letters and Calls in Bei­jing were do­ing so be­cause they wanted the cen­tral au­thor­i­ties to know their pe­ti­tion is­sues, while 88.5 per­cent of them wanted to put pres­sure on their lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

And as people’s pe­ti­tions re­flect neg­a­tively on the po­lit­i­cal per­for­mance of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and of­fi­cials, the au­thor­i­ties pay great at­ten­tion to stop­ping people from pe­ti­tion­ing. Some lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have even es­tab­lished pe­ti­tioner dis­ci­pline train­ing cen­ters, which bla­tantly vi­o­late cit­i­zens’ rights.

The State Bureau for Letters and Calls is­sued a doc­u­ment onWed­nes­day that rep­re­sents a ma­jor re­struc­tur­ing of the process. TheMethod of Fur­ther Reg­u­lat­ing Ac­cept­ing and Han­dling the Pro­ce­dure of Pe­ti­tion Is­sues to Guide Pe­ti­tion­ers’ Pe­ti­tion­ing at Each Level Ac­cord­ing to the Law, which will take ef­fect onMay 1, stip­u­lates that the higher letters and calls au­thor­i­ties will not ac­cept pe­ti­tion cases that have by­passed any lower lev­els. This con­forms to the or­ga­ni­za­tion and han­dling pro­ce­dure of the ad­min­is­tra­tive man­age­ment author­ity.

Re­quir­ing pe­ti­tion cases be dealt with by the lo­cal letters and calls au­thor­i­ties will not only im­prove the ef­fi­ciency of the pe­ti­tion mech­a­nism, it will also im­prove the higher au­thor­i­ties’ su­per­vi­sion over the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. By­passed pe­ti­tions over­load the higher letters and calls au­thor­i­ties and so re­duce ef­fi­ciency. Mean­while, the letters and calls au­thor­i­ties at all lev­els should deal with the pe­ti­tions in a trans­par­ent way and give the pe­ti­tion­ers feed­back in a time man­ner.

The de­ci­sion of the Third Plenum of the Party re­quires sep­a­rat­ing lit­i­ga­tion from pe­ti­tion, and the doc­u­ment also reg­u­lates that au­thor­i­ties of letters and calls will not ac­cept pe­ti­tion cases that should be solved within the frame­work of the lawand dealt with by the courts. If people ob­ject to le­gal de­ci­sions, they should re­sort to civil law, crim­i­nal la­wor ad­min­is­tra­tive re­view. The doc­u­ment also re­turns dis­pute set­tle­ment to the courts and guar­an­tees their in­de­pen­dence when re­solv­ing so­cial con­tra­dic­tions.

In fact, with the mod­ern­iza­tion of the State gov­er­nance sys­tem and the solv­ing of so­cial con­tra­dic­tions ac­cord­ing to the rule of law, as well as the es­tab­lish­ment of di­ver­si­fied dis­pute set­tle­ment mech­a­nisms, in­clud­ing me­di­a­tion, ar­bi­tra­tion, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, the pe­ti­tion sys­tem should go with the tide of the times and be com­pre­hen­sively and sys­tem­at­i­cally re­formed, be­fore fi­nally be­ing abol­ished com­pletely at an ap­pro­pri­ate time.

Re­ly­ing on the pe­ti­tion sys­tem and strength­en­ing it go against the mod­ern­iza­tion of the State gov­er­nance sys­tem. One cru­cial ad­vance in gov­er­nance has been un­der­lin­ing the func­tion of for­mal in­sti­tu­tions. Giv­ing pe­ti­tions, which are in essence an in­for­mal means of ex­press­ing a claim to rights and in­ter­ests, too much im­por­tance in the sys­tem of gov­er­nance un­der­mines the rule of lawand for­mal State gov­er­nance sys­tem.

The pe­ti­tion sys­tem, while it ex­ists, re­quires the fol­low­ing re­forms in the fu­ture. First, with the emer­gence of so­cial me­dia the in­for­ma­tive func­tion of pe­ti­tions has been re­mark­ably weak­ened nowa­days. Au­thor­i­ties can ef­fec­tively so­licit and eval­u­ate pub­lic opin­ion in many­ways other than through pe­ti­tions, there­fore the au­thor­i­ties no longer need to de­pend on the pe­ti­tion sys­tem to know what the pub­lic is think­ing.

Sec­ond, the au­thor­i­ties should re­duce people’s per­cep­tion that pe­ti­tions are the only means of dis­pute set­tle­ment and pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­i­tics. The pe­ti­tion sys­tem should be grad­u­ally re­formed so it be­comes an in­de­pen­dent govern­ment ac­count­abil­ity of­fice or ad­min­is­tra­tive ap­peal com­mis­sioner, un­til its fi­nal abo­li­tion.

Third, the people’s congress sys­tem should be strength­ened. As rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the pub­lic, the people’s congress and its stand­ing com­mit­tees should be the main com­mu­ni­ca­tion plat­form be­tween the pub­lic and the govern­ment, and they should guar­an­tee the or­derly ex­pres­sion of pub­lic opin­ion and the pub­lic’s su­per­vi­sion of State gov­er­nance. People’s congress at all lev­els can es­tab­lish deputy li­ai­son of­fices to im­prove re­la­tions be­tween people and the deputies.

Last but not least, we should be alert to people plac­ing ob­sta­cles in the way of pe­ti­tion sys­tem re­form, as the ul­ti­mate goal should be to abol­ish the pe­ti­tion sys­tem even­tu­ally. The au­thor is a law pro­fes­sor with Pek­ing Univer­sity.

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