Deliberative Democracy in China: Connecting a Deliberative Poll with the Local People's Congress
20 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2009
Date Written: September 3, 2009
The issue of how best to consult the public vexes policymakers and the public around the world. There are limitations to elections, self selected town public meetings, public opinion polls and every known method. Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in microcosms of the population, selected by random sampling, who also are given a chance to seriously deliberate about policy alternatives. How might such efforts connect with government institutions, including elected representatives? In China a series of Deliberative Polls have had a direct impact on policy at the local level. This paper reports on one of these projects which also attempted to explicitly connect with the official decision making by the Local Peoples Congress.
In February 2008, the local government of Zeguo Township in Wenling City, China conducted its third Deliberative Poll. Zeguo Township began conducting Deliberative Polls in 2005, when the local government sought to consult the public about 30 infrastructure, sewage and environmental projects. The most recent DP was the most ambitious and transparent project this Township has conducted. The local officials randomly selected 197 citizens of Zeguo to deliberate on the Township’s 2008 financial budget allocation. The participants of this DP received balanced briefing materials and a detailed report of the Township’s 2008 budget. This was the first time the local government had released its budget report to the public. As a direct result of this DP project, the Local People’s Congress (LPC) revised items of its 2008 budget to reflect the voice of the people.
The participants experienced significant knowledge gains and policy preference changes, but, most significantly is the impact of this project on local governance. Over 60 deputies from the Local People’s Congress observed the DP event and subsequently, the LPC approved the results generated from this DP event. The local government needed a method of public consultation for citizens to engage in deliberation, interact with policymakers and experts, and at the same time, increase transparency. Through Deliberative Polling, the local officials gathered a microcosm of their Township and most importantly, discovered and revised their Township’s budgetary preferences based on voices from informed citizens. This paper analyzes the public opinion data in the DP and assesses it against criticisms about representativeness and the quality of the process.
Keywords: deliberation, china, deliberative democracy
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