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      Consultative democracy becomes part of Tibetans' lives

      0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Beijing Review, March 28, 2022
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      Konchog Chodron holds a consultation meeting with drivers and construction contractors at the construction site. [Photo/Beijing Review]

      Under China's socialist system, the essence of the people's democracy is that the people get to discuss their own affairs so as to reach the greatest common ground based on the wishes and needs of the whole of society.

      Soon after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Tibet was successfully and peacefully liberated in 1951. Throughout the development of the region, a modern socialist Tibet has taken shape with its effective operation of the whole-process people's democracy and full exercise of democratic rights by the people of all ethnic groups. Over the past 71 years since Tibet's liberation, consultative democracy has been integrated into every aspect of Tibetan people's lives, giving utmost respect to people's opinions. As a result, participation in the legislative process has become part of local people's daily lives.

      Consultative democracy is a habit

      Konchog Chodron is a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and deputy magistrate of Lhunze County in Shannan City, Tibet. One evening, after finishing preparations for a meeting to be held the following day, she headed off to Zari Township to take part in a democratic consultation meeting.

      Shannan has been developing fast. With the construction of a national highway and an airport being under way in the city, local people have found an opportunity of making money by engaging in transportation services. Zari Township, however, is located deep in a mountainous region with a complex terrain. The conditions of different road sections differ, posing difficulties for the construction. The consultation meeting to be held at the township therefore focuses on collecting local residents' ideas regarding differential pricing for transportation service fees.

      "We adopted a pricing standard before. But as the road conditions have changed with the progress of the construction, disputes have aroused between the drivers and construction contractors, and they requested us government staff to organize another negotiation between them. So I'm going to get the work done tonight in order to prevent it from affecting the project schedule," said Konchog Chodron. She added with a smile, "People here have a lot of say in many things, and no decision can be made without having a detailed discussion with them. Democratic consultation has become a part of their life."

      Whenever a problem occurs, those concerned should always hold deliberations in good faith. Matters involving many people are discussed by all those involved. Chinese people have explored and initiated various popular and pragmatic grassroots practices, such as residents councils, residents' workshops, courtyard discussions, and neighborhood meetings among others.

      According to Konchog Chodron, holding meetings with villagers in the field is her working routine. "They often start with quarrels and anger but end with handshakes and happiness. Disputes are resolved and a consensus is reached through democratic consultation," said Konchog Chodron.

      Due to poor road conditions, it took her three hours to drive over a 20-kilometer mountain road. At the construction site, she listened intently to the demands of both the local drivers and the construction contractor. After several rounds of negotiations, she proposed a standard referring to preferential policies issued by the transport department of Tibet Autonomous Region. Although the price of RMB 4 for the first two kilometers plus RMB 2 for every one more kilometer to be charged by the drivers is slightly higher than the government-guided price in the county, both parties concerned agreed on the rate for this special road section.

      Peaceful negotiations in accordance with laws and policies with the township government serving as the organizer, coordinator and witness at the agreement signing has become a way of discussions readily accepted by all the people in Zari.

      Konchog Chodron said, "The transformation of government function requires better services and management. We insist on carrying out more in-depth discussions and consultation with local people. So the process of democratic consultation is about exchanging ideas, building consensus, making sound and democratic decisions, and ensuring the people's status as masters of the country."

      Participation of the people affects decision making

      Protecting the ecological environment is a topic of great importance on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. However, it is inevitable to encounter challenges in the process of pursuing economic development.

      Shannan City has abundant mineral resources. Due to unregulated mining in the past, the ecological environment has been destroyed, affecting the lives of residents along the sand and gravel area. In order to regulate mining activities and rationally utilize local resources to protect the environment and promote sustainable development, the Shannan municipal government issued a local regulation on sandstone mining in light of relevant national and regional laws. It went into force on November 1, 2020.

      Konchog Chodron recalled that as the leader of Zari Township, she participated in the organization and coordination for the pre-draft research in 2018, witnessing how the deliberative democracy runs through the legislation.

      "We carried out research before the regulation was drafted. The county officials visited townships under its jurisdiction to listen to the concerns and demands of local people. Then township officials organized a joint meeting with village officials, resident representatives, and mine owners, introducing them to relevant policies and seeking their opinions," said Konchog Chodron. Tibetan people respect nature and have a strong awareness of ecological protection. They oppose mining sandstone along river courses because it can affect the water flow and lead to floods. It will also destroy the environment for vegetation and local tourism. "Local people only agreed to support mining if it was an organized mining project for national infrastructure," said Konchog Chodron. On the part of mine owners, they had high costing equipment and their economic interests would suffer huge losses if the projects were suddenly shut down. After several rounds of consultation, the miners agreed to sell their equipment through government procurement and close illegal mining sites.

      After the draft regulation was formulated, the township officials convened meetings of village committees, which then conveyed the messages to every villager and collected public opinion on what revisions should be made to the draft. Following the promulgation of the regulation, the village committees informed the villagers about it through issuing a public notice. Officials are required to explain the regulation if a villager has any question to "ensure that every villager understands and respects the regulation," said Konchog Chodron.

      The participation of the people determines the degree of democracy and affects the decision-making. In the legislative process, the collection of people's opinions, concerns, and ideas helps to improve the quality of legislation and guarantee the practicality and implementation of the laws.

      "For the people who work hard in the farm field, to participate in the legislative process, sounded so far away that they never imagined that they can be a part of it. They were so happy when they found that their ideas had been fully reflected in the laws," said Konchog Chodron. In her opinion, the true meaning of the whole-process democracy is people being able to decide their own affairs.

      People's opinions are respected

      Democratic consultation has been firmly established in Zari Township. People can voice their opinions on issues ranging from trivial matters in daily life to the village's overall development.

      In the case of building a new community in a border village, Konchog Chodron needs to review the architectural drawings for every building. "Previously there were only two types of apartments – with two bedrooms and three bedrooms – available, but after discussions with the villagers concerned, the types of apartments will increase to six to meet the villager's individual needs. I now need to talk to the construction contractor to confirm the revision plans," she said.

      On one occasion, a woman wanted to build her house by the river. Her old house was too small to satisfy her daily needs. But while the new house is larger, there were safety concerns due to its location by the river. Despite the village staff's advice for the woman to change the location to a safer area, she was very emotionally attached to the place and refused to leave. In order to accommodate the woman's wishes, Konchog Chodron, village officials, and construction workers finally came up with an idea to install guardrails around the house to ensure her safety. In the end, the woman agreed and was very happy as well.

      "This is the epitome of democratic consultation in Zari Township. Everything is handled to the satisfaction of the people. Today the means of communication has facilitated and accelerated the process of conducting daily affairs, but every step should remain and be carried out. Grassroots democratic consultation allows the full recognition of everyone's opinion," said Konchog Chodron.

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