By Larry Romanoff, October 21, 2022
We often read in the Western press that China has a “rubber-stamp” parliament. That isn’t true, and I will deal with it below but, if we want a genuine example of a real rubber-stamp parliament, we can look much closer to home – Canada.
In Canada, the leader of the party that wins the election automatically becomes the Prime Minister. He then selects the cabinet, which will include ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Health, and so on, and which body determines all legislation to be proposed and passed. These appointments are done entirely by one man, at his option, with cabinet members freely appointed and dismissed at will. It should be apparent that a Prime Minister will appoint to his cabinet only those persons seeing the world through his pair of eyes; he is looking for compliance and conformity, not diversity and conflict. All must be reading from the same script.
The Prime Minister determines the character and the landscape, the “psyche” of the current government, which is reflected in his choice of cabinet ministers. No legislation will proceed to Parliament without the approval of the Prime Minister. In fact, no topics, legislative or otherwise, will be raised for discussion within the cabinet, without the express permission of the Prime Minister. Any cabinet member presuming to introduce unwanted topics will be shut down and/or dismissed. When Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, was Prime Minister of Canada, his traditional method of dealing with naïve junior cabinet members who dared question or contradict his proposals, was to listen carefully then to state, “Does anyone else have anything stupid they want to say.?” Once was usually enough; the cabinet members know their place. When new legislation or government initiatives are discussed within the cabinet, there may be disagreement and open debate on details, but the final form will inevitably be one that reflects the wishes of the Prime Minister. Actually, in real life, it will reflect the wishes of his external handlers and those who paid for his leadership campaign, but we needn’t go there now.
When a piece of legislation is decided upon, it is presented to Parliament for debate which, in real life, is a mere condescension to the pretense of democracy since it is already decreed that the legislation will pass. The opposition party can debate within limits, as they do, but the legislation will always pass because the governing party has a majority of votes. In the real world of politics, the parliamentary debates are a sham. Members of the governing party always debate in favor while members of the opposition invariably debate against. The opposition’s only intent is to delay and hamstring, perhaps to embarrass, the government, and to score political points that may be valuable in the next election. The ostensible purpose of the opposition, as every school child is taught, is to keep the government on its toes, and honest, to present alternatives, to illuminate flaws or dangers, but the political system is rather more abrupt and vicious than this. Government politics in every democracy is quite a dirty business, not at all the high-minded and selfless system presented in elementary text books.
When new legislation is put to a vote, members of the governing party always vote in favor; they have no choice. To vote against your own government’s bills would mean eviction from the party and the end of a political career. It is virtually unheard of. Of course, all opposition members vote against the bills but, since they are in a minority, this is of no consequence and the bills always pass. No members of a democratic parliament are permitted to “vote according to their conscience” except on the most trivial of matters when the Prime Minister grants approval, and this almost never happens. In fact, the news media make a great commotion when the government leader occasionally gives his party members the “freedom” to vote as they wish rather than as they are told, presented as a great thing. Unfortunately, it’s always on a trivial issue that cannot be hijacked by some ideology.
In truth, in the real world of democratic politics, the opposition party serves no useful purpose and accomplishes nothing, simply being an enormous waste of time and money. The opposition has no power to influence the trajectory of the ruling government. It can only delay, but cannot influence or prevent any legislation or action of the governing party. The opposition is entirely emasculated, totally impotent. In real life, this is such a useless body the members might as well go home and prepare for the next election four years hence.
The situation is not different if the governing party does not have a majority of the seats in Parliament and is forced to form a coalition with one of the minor parties. There will be some give-and-take, but the coalition agreement will state that the minority party will support the government in all Parliamentary votes, thus maintaining a majority. It is true that the ideology of the coalition party may prevent a particular piece of legislation from being presented to Parliament, but otherwise all is essentially the same.
This is not only a true, “rubber-stamp” parliament, but constitutes in the real world of democratic systems, a one-man four-year dictatorship. This is how it really is, at least in Canada and, from the information available, the situation is essentially the same in all democracies, Western or otherwise. The US is an exception due to the different structure, but the results are in many ways comparable.
The only place where this narrative encounters difficulty is when we have, as sometimes occurs, a weak and/or incompetent Prime Minister, and a majority of the members of cabinet and Parliament lose faith in their leader and force a change. But after the change, the situation reverts to normal, that is, to the one-man dictatorship and his rubber-stamp parliament.
In summary, in a Western “democracy” like that of Canada, the Leader of the Party – the Prime Minister – has 100% control over his cabinet, and the cabinet has 100% control over all voting issues presented to the House. The Prime Minister also has 100% control of the party members’ voting who can either fall into line or leave the party, and that means the entire party will either “rubber-stamp” the Prime Minister’s wishes and decisions or be politically executed. You must vote for your ‘team’. To do otherwise is both heresy and suicide. Thus, we have, in real life, in actuality, a one-man dictatorship. In truth, it is the Western countries like Canada, not China, that have “ceremonial” and “rubber-stamp” parliaments, and that are “authoritarian dictatorships”.
Here is an extract from a 2010 article in London’s Sunday Times:
“When deputies gather in the ornate meeting rooms of the Great Hall of the People, they demonstrate little willingness to engage in hard-hitting discussion of the hot issues of the day – housing, inflation or job opportunities. It is not for nothing that the National People’s Congress is described by such fitting clichés as “rubber stamp” and “ceremonial”.”
You would almost have to think this was a joke, but the Times went on to tell us about some of the ‘hot issues of the day’ that China’s parliament demonstrated ‘little willingness to discuss’: “One woman submitted a proposal to ban all private internet cafés. Other suggestions have included a call to prohibit the national anthem as a mobile phone ring tone, and another for a law demanding husbands pay salaries to their wives for the housework.” What can we say? Shame on China’s parliament for their unwillingness to engage in “hard-hitting discussion” of these hot issues.
Westerners are accustomed to the pompous, fractious, and often juvenile, posturing debates occurring in their respective parliaments. In Australia and South Korea, the “hard-hitting discussions” are literally that, since the elected members often come to blows, or hurl books and furniture at each other. Other Western Parliaments are not much better. In the US, one senator referred to an opposition member as “just a chicken-shit thief“; presumably he was enraptured by one of the “hot issues of the day”. Westerners strangely accept this as normal, and make various – and vacuous – excuses for it. But there should be no excuse for the most senior leaders and officials of a nation to engage in such emotionally juvenile behavior. The mere absence of this kind of immature stupidity in China’s parliament is used as proof of its ceremonial and rubber-stamp status, apparently implying that there is no power without idiocy.
China is managed by an open-door meritocracy with nearly 100 million members, of which the national parliament is an extension. The NPC is not a rubber stamp for a non-existent communist dictator. The nation’s annual sessions of parliament occur in Beijing with meetings of almost 3,000 deputies and advisors who represent China’s 1.4 billion people. To suggest that crucial issues are not addressed is nonsense. China’s system is simply different from that of Western countries, and that difference is arguably far superior. Once again, China is a pluralistic society, very unlike the US and most of the West. The Chinese discuss and debate as much as anyone, but the objective is consensus as to what is in the long-term best interests of the nation as a whole.
This should be easy for Westerners to understand, but perhaps not. A major difference is that with only one party, everyone is on the same team and searching for the best long-term solution for the entire nation. China does not have two or three “teams” whose members’ primary preoccupation is obtaining control in the next election. Thus, Chinese government officials are not “politicians” competing on ideology, but rather “government management officials” looking for solutions. It should be obvious that such a large Parliamentary group will contain points of view from every corner of the social spectrum. The members of China’s parliament are absolutely reading from the same script when it comes to the rejuvenation of their nation, but those within the group reflect every possible kind of opinion or position.
This is true in the same way it is true for a corporation, where the senior executives and Board members may initially have widely-differing opinions on the future of the company, but their task is to amalgamate all those positions into a coherent future path. There may be prolonged and even heated discussions until the opposing points of view can all be assuaged and accommodated into a unanimous agreement but, through it all, everyone is on “the same team” and searching for the most acceptable result for the company as a whole.
By contrast, in all “democracies” we have two or more parties whose primary interest is not the good of the nation or the welfare of the people, but of winning the next election and being in power. The governing of a nation is thus reduced to a kind of team sport where the most important consideration is a victory for “our team”. It is legend that any corporation run in this manner is heading for bankruptcy, and the inescapable truth is that this is not different for government. This is one of the flaws omitted from our elementary school textbooks.
But there is more. The Chinese culture is different from that of the West. When the members of China’s Parliament are discussing new legislation and new 5-year plans, they are not there to create a “TV moment” or garner votes at the expense of another – a claim nobody can make about Western governments. Those who work in Asian countries will know there are many discussions offline, that the debates, the critical examination of all aspects of issues, are done beforehand by many people in many groups until a consensus emerges. It is undoubtedly true that many of these discussions are intense, perhaps even heated, but unlike the US, Canada, and the West generally, the Chinese prefer to not hysterically hang out their dirty linen for the world to see. Family arguments are kept inside the home where they belong, with a unified face presented to the foreign neighbors. China cannot be faulted for that. If anything, the NPC is an example of how adults make decisions without the juvenile posturing and bickering that goes on in the Western political systems. Of course, this is all assisted by the existence of only one political party. Since there are no ideological ‘teams’ designed to create conflict, the members simply get down to business. It should be strikingly obvious that nobody needs those extra political parties, but the jingoists cannot think in other terms. To them multiple parties are theological in nature.
China’s major Parliamentary meetings are usually to present the final agreement. By the time the issues are presented to China’s Parliament, there may have been months of discussions in variable mixed groups of every size, with all individuals exploring all the alternatives, weeding out the inappropriate or unworkable, until everyone is on the same page. They have all participated in the evaluations, in the debates, and have already achieved the consensus sought. To object then is in some sense already too late. They then conduct a formal vote to simply to confirm the decisions they have already made. This is how the proposals reach the point where they are finally voted on, and why they normally receive overwhelming approval. It sometimes occurs that a few outliers of extremely firm conviction refuse to compromise and thus vote against a proposal, but these people are usually obstructionist and not very good “team players”, and perhaps not long for the government world. It’s really quite disingenuous to suggest that the Chinese process is a “rubber stamp” approval by people who have no power and no say. And it’s especially hypocritical since Western democracies themselves most closely resemble what they condemn.
China’s system also has an ‘opposition’, but this body has two major differences from Western governments. Also, it functions intelligently, so let’s make that three major differences. First, it does not function to ‘oppose’ but rather to consult. This body is charged with the responsibility to consider not only the government’s directions and policies but also to devise alternatives and make recommendations. And the government must by law consider and respond to all these consultations – which it does. Second, this opposition group are not the marginalised ‘losers’ as in the Western systems but a second tier of extremely competent people who were not selected to the top governing positions. And, rather than lose all this expertise, this secondary group was created to contribute to the development of their country.
Mr. Romanoff’s writing has been translated into 32 languages and his articles posted on more than 150 foreign-language news and politics websites in more than 30 countries, as well as more than 100 English language platforms. Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He is one of the contributing authors to Cynthia McKinney’s new anthology ‘When China Sneezes’. (Chapt. 2 — Dealing with Demons).
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