The Internet As A Goad for Democracy
|Alice Poon||Jun 24, 2008|
My translation of the essay:-
“Dozens of netizens gathered the day before yesterday at the Guangzhou Pearl Island Guest House to collect awards for an online essay competition on a subject called ‘My Policy Proposal for Guangdong’s Scientific Development’. Half a year ago, the Guangdong Province in the face of an internet-connected world, decided to invite policy proposals on its scientific development and its initiative met with positive response from netizens all over the nation. It received a collection of high-quality online essays. At that moment, Guangdong blazed the trail in a bold attempt to utilize the intelligence of citizens in formulating its policy democratically and the response has been quite overwhelming. By suitably rewarding those writers whose essays excelled, the authorities are in fact confirming that they value the importance of having netizens at large participate in a new round of liberation of their thoughts. This act will also continue to boost the confidence of those who believe in internet democracy.
The internet world has never lacked sublime knowledge and expert opinions. This is an unquestionable fact. There is unfathomable potential in the pool of citizen intelligence as exemplified by netizens – a fact underscored by Guangdong’s fruitful exercise as mentioned above. Another proof is that on the heels of Guangdong’s trial, Jiangxi and Shanghai have followed suit in inviting policy proposals from the public.
The survey reports furnished by netizens either relate to every perspective of Guangdong’s economic and social development, or focus on arguments of a certain issue, or cover macro issues across a wide spectrum. The depth and breadth of such reports are no less impressive than those produced by organized think-tanks. The local government using these essays as reference points, has paid heed to the public’s call. This way, not only can government provide grounds for its policy-making, it can also achieve better support from different social strata on a particular public policy.
For netizens to be suitably commended for their rational thinking, not only does it imply a personal honor, it also signifies the first success on the road to internet democracy. Accompanying the growth of technological know-how is the government’s open and receptive attitude towards public opinion, public aspiration and public intelligence. Guangdong’s exercise is proof that honest public discourse is not a taboo, nor is it anything to be fearful about – a straightforward statement of the pros and cons, of the costs and benefits, is just as beneficial a tool to scientific development. This is a mild test where government and the public have started to engage in dialogue, and where government officials have gained access to a channel for obtaining netizens’ opinions.
For all this to be happening, other than owing to the healthy growth of a civil society, government’s confidence and its taking the initiative has of course also played an important part. In other words, internet democracy is not something that just came out from thin air – it is both a means to establishing political democracy, as well as a result of a democratizing process. In seeking the most balanced proposal from the internet world, garnering the widest public support for policies, and putting creative suggestions into practical use, government is still the pivotal power. This is due to the reality of the prevailing system, and also out of respect for the way government now operates. But this in no way contradicts the fact that netizen opinion does exist; it is waiting to be awakened, to be encouraged and given support.
Guangdong’s commendation of netizens and adopting an open attitude towards an open virtual world has owed a lot to its efforts at liberation of thoughts. It is also a reflection of scientific development progress. From government’s standpoint, not only does accepting the expansive internet world have a symbolic significance, it also has practical administrative benefits. Wherever there is public opinion, allowing a platform to be built so as to let opinion thrive is proof that government is determined to be receptive towards freedom of expression. Internet democracy is destined to provide a solid ground for policy-making democracy and to be a guiding light to scientific development.
After a process of intentional build-up, the planning stage of Guangdong’s scientific development has initiated. As a directional prompt, cadres’ performance measure yardstick is moving away from a GDP focus towards an emphasis on citizen welfare and citizens’ level of satisfaction. The effectiveness of government operation will more and more be linked with social gauge and public opinion. Government action that does not take public opinion into account will on many levels be subjected to rectification pressure. The Guangdong and Jiangxi provincial officials’ seeking public policy proposals via the internet is not an isolated example. Their intention is to encourage all government officials to use scientific development as a starting point to put policy-making democracy into practice.
Government officials and netizens are on common ground when it comes to treasuring internet democracy. The promoting process of internet democracy fits in well with the mutually beneficial aim of society and government. Incumbent officials can best demonstrate their attitude via their act. As long as the policy of reform and opening up is unchanged, and as long as liberation of thoughts continues, a continual and long-term process of internet democracy can be expected. This is a landmark event in the internet world, as well as a historic record in governance.
Guangdong asked for help from netizens on an economic issue and netizens have responded. As the exercise is a mutually beneficial one for both parties, it has therefore prompted both sides to respond. Since both sides are responsive, the process is mutually advantageous. Internet democracy has inspired more creative thoughts, and from these will grow infinite possibilities. All we need to do is move forward."