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Local legislators to the fore

Updated: 2014-01-17 07:39
( China Daily)

The scrutiny of the proposed ordinance on air pollution prevention by Beijing municipal people's congress is hardly newsy, because the deteriorating air quality in the city deserves to be a legislative priority and, more importantly, a legislative response to the issue of outstanding public concern is overdue.

Yet the coming event of the current legislature session is more than newsy, because for "the first time after 13 years" the people's congress would exercise "legislative power", as the local media put it.

The 700-strong legislature, which convenes every year, has not wielded full-session legislative authority for 13 years. All local legislations of the city, big and small, had been examined and approved by the 70 or so members of its standing committee since the 2001 annual session, which passed a regulation on the making of local statutes.

The reason? Schedules of the full sessions are too tight to allow discussions on legislative bills, which usually turn out to be prolonged processes. Such annual sessions are dedicated to work reports of the legislative, judicial and administrative arms of the local government, as well as elections. No law was broken, though. And that's why the practice could continue for years.

But the absence of people's delegates in the discourse and lawmaking on major local affairs is against the ideals and principles of our representative democracy. It compromises the elected representatives' right to participate in core legislative procedures.

That some major local decrees have been found to be ill-conceived after winning legislative approval was clear evidence of the limitations of decision-making behind closed doors. Letting 600 more people take part would not just make the process more worthwhile. It will also make representative democracy more credible.

Beijing has decided to subject the air pollution bill to the full session of the people's congress because the topic is reportedly too significant to not be deliberated in a broader context.

Since the city has reportedly decided to make it a standard practice for legislation by the full session, we are now looking to delegates newly admitted into the legislative process to live up to people's expectation.

And since all local legislatures are to hold their annual sessions before March, we hope Beijing is not alone in making true an essential promise of representative democracy.