Constitution Day matters

Updated: 2014-12-04 07:37

(China Daily)

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In a historical, and historic, first, judicial workers across the Chinese mainland are swearing allegiance to the Constitution in celebration of the country's first Constitution Day.

Given the prevalent ignorance of and disregard for the Constitution public officials have displayed, it is necessary to have all State functionaries take an oath to the fundamental law.

Like any other promise they have made, the ultimate test will be whether or not the new ritual is taken seriously. Unless it is, there will be endless troubles ahead.

The authorities' loud denouncements of constitutionalism may leave the impression that they don't want to be confined by the Constitution. But the truth is they need to put power into the cage of the Constitution to improve governance and rebuild legitimacy. All rhetoric about rule of law will sound hollow without power showing due respect for the Constitution.

Thirteen years ago today, when the date of the approval of the 1982 Constitution was designated for promoting legal awareness, the intended audience was by and large the general public. The latest decision to upgrade that designation to the Constitution Day parallels an embarrassing new reality: More often than not, the man on the street appears more serious about the law than those who are supposed to act in its name.

"The law must be believed in, or it will exist in name only," said the great American legal scholar Harold J. Berman. Which is precisely where our problem lies.

After decades of incremental improvements, the Chinese legal system appears more complete and sophisticated than ever. With the incorporation of such contemporary jurisprudential components as protection of human rights and private property, our Constitution sounds particularly pleasant to the ear.

Even better, the Fourth Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China just pledged to highlight constitutional supervision by the national legislature in its pursuit of a "socialist State of rule of law".

Adding teeth to the Constitution and the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, will surely be conducive to promoting the rule of law, and facilitate attempts to "modernize the national governance system and capabilities".

Public servants' rampant abuse of their powers and violation of civil rights and liberties are a naked betrayal of the Constitution, which, besides defining the national governance structure, is also a guarantee of civil rights.

The Constitution is essentially about drawing boundary lines for official power.

The "organic unity" of the Party leadership, people's role as masters of the State and rule of law are out of the question if private homes can be evacuated and demolished by force, and individual rights and properties infringed upon in the name of the State.

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