Deputies go from 'hand raisers' to giving voice to people

Chen Huizhi
Shanghai's annual Two Sessions are where people make their voices heard through the city's lawmakers and political advisers.
Chen Huizhi

"Nanchang Road has been turned into a cafe street, but all roadside parking slots on the street were removed last year. This affected the caterers a lot," Shi Zheng, a deputy to the Shanghai People's Congress, the city's legislature, wrote in a suggestion to the government for the coming annual session of the congress, which starts from January 20.

This, she wrote, is an example of how rigid street parking rules are turning away the customers of many street shops which are already struggling in the pandemic.

She suggested that the government introduce 15-minute free parking for all street parking slots available, and use digital platforms to facilitate the service.

Shi, president of the workers' union of Shanghai Jingao Public Transportation Co, became a deputy to the Shanghai People's Congress in 2017. Street parking problems, which are a concern of many of her fellow residents, have been on her mind for years.

Last year, she filed a suggestion in which she called for the introduction of more temporary parking slots in minor streets. The deputy work commission of the congress forwarded her suggestion to Shanghai traffic police.

Officials from the police sat down with her for a discussion of the issue, and her new suggestion, she told Shanghai Daily, was the result of the brainstorming from the occasion.

"Although I work for a bus company, it doesn't mean that I have to promote public transportation all the time," she said. "It's the expectation of the residents that all kinds of mobility needs are addressed."

As a member of the urban construction and environmental protection committee of the congress, Shi also conducted pre-legislation research on the taxi business last year.

The job of a legislator is so much learning by doing. Shi and her fellow deputies come from different walks of life, but they listen to various needs of the people and address them through direct access to the government or legislation. This works in a very similar way to legislatures in many other countries.

In China, becoming deputies of the people's congresses is largely seen as an honor. The deputies are revered among the people, but with their position comes with more responsibility than a heightened status, which they're well aware of.

In recent years, as more and more channels to take part in legislation and to seek engagement with the deputies on various issues are open to the public, the deputies have become more visible, dispelling the impression that they're merely "hand raisers."

People can now directly offer their suggestions on legislative matters to the legislatures both of the city and of the country through "liaison points on legislative matters" found in all 16 Shanghai districts.

Last year alone, 3,103 suggestions on over 30 local laws were collected from 25 liaison points, and 354 of them were eventually written into law, according to Shanghai People's Congress.

Deputies regularly meet people in about 5,600 community deputy offices around the city where they take any suggestion or complaint from the people and strive to address their problems.

Residents are invited to attend hearings launched at the Shanghai People's Congress where members of the standing committee of the congress ask questions of government representatives on various issues. The congress also holds open-door events in which people take the seats of the standing committee members and discuss legislative issues like lawmakers do.

In the opinion of Xu Liping, general engineer at SGIDI Engineering Consulting Group Co and a member of the committee for urban construction and environment protection of the Shanghai People's Congress, democracy is not a job confined to those who sit in the legislature, but rather it should be very much inclusive.

"The people's democracy works only when people have the passion, the capability and the access to take part in the governance of our society, which can't happen overnight," she told Shanghai Daily.

In her view, the key is to ensure full knowledge of policy and legislative issues as well as full participation of the people.

The annual Shanghai Two Sessions, where the city's legislators and political advisers file a large number of suggestions to the government, are an exuberant expression of the voices of the people.

Let them be heard!

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