Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Petitioning progresses toward its end

By Zhan Zhongle (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-25 07:12

New stipulations aim to raise awareness of the rule of law and increase the supervision over lower levels of government

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 on Wednesday that represents a major restructuring of the process. The Method 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 on May 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.

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