Petition reform takes its last stand

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-24 23:58:35

China's State Bureau for Letters and Calls announced a new regulation on Wednesday, asking local bureaus to "guide petitioners to follow the level-by-level procedure." The most striking part is that the petitioners' requests will not be responded to by superior bureaus if they bypass the local bureaus.  This new rule raised public debate on the Internet.

China's petition system was established and has been kept on the basis of China's social reality. Some radical voices demand annulment of the system, saying its existence has jeopardized China's rule of law.

This advocacy is only feasible in theory, because an abrupt cancellation of the system will block the way for a great number of social controversies to be addressed. Petitioning is a remedial measure caused by China's lack of the rule of law. The system is still badly needed by society.

No one can deny that serious problems are taking place frequently within the system. Unbridled abuse of power, widespread groups of vested interests and astonishing corruption have forced the petition system to reform.

The core significance of this new regulation lies in its reorientation of the system, calling on local bureaus and governments to play their role and assume their responsibilities. This is a reasonable target not just for maintaining social stability, but for efficiently solving problems.

It is time to readjust people's outdated idea that a petition only works when the State bureau gets involved. China's capital should not be a "city of petitioning." Local authorities must fulfill their duties when petitions are submitted.

But the key problem is whether these authorities will do this. The new rule offers a vision in design and makes logical sense, but whether it is a good rule depends on how well every authority enforces it.

Petitioning lends hope to the masses when they are treated unfairly by more powerful forces. But in the meantime, a handful of petitioners are using it as a tool to exploit additional benefits. The incompetence of local authorities is also making the situation more complicated. Petitioning is the weakest link of public trust.

This new rule is just the beginning of a whole package of petition reforms. Fixing the system takes coordinated measures.

Rule of law must be carried forward to grass-roots authorities, making sure they are authorized to address every kind of social controversy in a solid manner and also strictly regulate law enforcement.

Petitioning has already become the most delicate and sensitive issue in Chinese society, and some specific cases are powerful to trigger nationwide tensions.

Petition reform, at the very least, has to make sure the problems it solves exceed the problems it causes.

China's petition system is already on the verge of collapse and it can no longer bear another blow from the public. The future of reform, as of now, is still unclear, but it is expected to have one.

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