Political hurdles

Athlete fails to win gold in speechwriting stakes

Political hurdles

Liu: Did I really write this?

He may be one of the fastest men in the world but when it comes to politics, Olympic champion hurdler Liu Xiang is a laggard.

The athlete, who was made a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) two years ago, is coming under fire for relying on ghost writers to prepare a proposal related to sport coach welfare at the CPPCC’s annual meeting that kicked off last week.

“Frankly, it was put together by others,” China News Service quoted Liu, winner of the men’s 110m hurdles in Athens 2004, as saying. “I have been too busy training and don’t have time [to write the proposal].” He added that if it were a self-penned suggestion he would have focused more on the welfare of athletes.

But netizens were still annoyed. Some said he should resign from the body since he doesn’t seem to take his political responsibilities seriously. Others question how he got elected to be a delegate in the first place.

The China Daily seemed perplexed too. A column published on the newspaper’s website said the hurdler’s proposals seem superficial when “only serious topics for the nation and the world should be addressed.” The Global Times agreed: “In today’s glitzy world, there is nothing wrong with celebrity. But for a cause such as moving forward real democracy in China, what’s needed are critical minds and historical vision, not casual celebrations”.

Others were less surprised. “It’s no secret that many of the delegates are unable to write proposals on their own and that’s why we see so many poorly produced and useless proposals everyday,” says a Beijing-based analyst.

The CPPCC is an advisory body to the Chinese government that, in theory, is a conduit for public opinion. Often, its handpicked representatives – half of which are current or retired officials, and the rest often movie stars, athletes and billionaires – are mocked for being out of touch with the views of ordinary citizens.

A few examples of some of the more eye-catching proposals this year? Delegate Zhang Xiaomei, editor for the China Beauty Fashion newspaper, proposed legislation to force husbands to compensate their wives for doing housework. It’s an idea that might well draw significant support from hard-pressed housewives – but hardly one likely to be taken up as a national policy.

Delegate Mao Xinyu – grandson of Mao Zedong (see WiC33) and a senior colonel in the People’s Liberation Army – also made the headlines with recommendations that the military pay more attention to his grandfather’s expertise in guerilla tactics. More than a little family pride in that one, perhaps.

And then there was the suggestion made by delegate (and restaurateur) Yang Qi that internet cafes be banned because of their bad influence on the country’s youth.

Delegate Gong Jianming even called for a ban on the use of the national anthem as a mobile phone ring tone.

More contentious suggestions often fail to make it into debate. Hong Kong political magazine Cheng Ming says proposals to discuss whether officials and their families should declare their incomes were rejected this year, for example. Another proposal questioning the pension packages paid to government retirees also failed to make the cut, according to the China Youth Daily.

Even though last week’s CPPCC event signals US-style democracy is still some way off in China, there are political experiments taking place in other areas of the country. Take Heilong, a district of the city Dengzhou in Henan. Since 2005, local residents have had a say in the appointment of local officials, as well as a vote on single-issue policies that relate to the village.

For example, the community recently voted on a proposal to improve road across to the village at a cost of $25 per household.

The original proposal was voted down by villagers whose homes would not be connected to the planned roads. But after the veto, a new plan was passed in which only those who directly benefit from the scheme will pay.

“For the first time, our opinions mattered,” says Zhang Hongde, a 60 year-old villager, and Dengzhou officials said village-level democracy has made people happier. State leaders now hope for wider trials of the voting programme.

Perhaps the villagers should send a couple of delegates to the CPPCC…

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