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E-Petitions Sweep Guangdong

Petitioning officials is an ancient Chinese right, now being updated for a brave new world. Officials in China’s Guangdong province are making complaining as easy as one click away. According to the FT, citizens of four cities can now lodge complaints online to virtual officials (as opposed to sending a letter of last resort to Beijing).  Webcasts show cartoon versions of the officials responding to selected petitions. From the FT:

Guangdong’s moves to alter the petition system are being viewed as a novel attempt to improve communication between an authoritarian government and its increasingly restive citizens, but also as a ploy to reduce the number of complaints channeled to the central government.

Public interest seems high.  Something like 25,000 viewers checked into the first three webcasts to see how officials reacted in Guangdong; if the public thinks the service is worthwhile the number of viewers and the number of petitioners could grow very fast.The new approach won’t satisfy everyone. But from an administrative point of view, it’s an important step forward. Moving services online cuts costs and increases efficiency, and governments around the world need to do more of that.

All governments, whether democratic or not, face the challenge of responding to public opinion in timely and effective ways.  As it improves government efficiency and seeks ways to make officials more accountable, China is grappling with two of the central challenges of the 21st century.  Via Meadia wishes China every success as it struggles to develop a harmonious society at home to match what Via Meadia deeply hopes will be a peaceful rise abroad.

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