China’s Communist Party has invited public comment on a number of issues ahead of its 20th congress later this year, in a first for the ruling party ahead of its five-yearly key political gathering. State news agency Xinhua said people can make suggestions on “full and strict party governance, high quality development, comprehensive reform and opening up, [and] whole-process people’s democracy”. The party is also seeking views on “law-based state governance, socialist cultural advancement, people’s livelihoods and ecological progress”. People have until May 16 to submit their comments and suggestions to websites and mobile apps for Xinhua, party mouthpiece People’s Daily and state broadcaster CCTV. The move follows a fierce campaign last year to rein in private capital in a number of sectors, including technology, after-school tutoring and internet financial services. It also comes amid widespread discontent over job losses and food shortages, with strict lockdowns in many cities to curb Covid-19 outbreaks. China has prioritised maintaining economic and social stability ahead of the party congress later this year, when President Xi Jinping is expected to secure his third term as party general secretary, as the rest of the top leadership undergoes a major reshuffle. However, economic growth – a cornerstone of the party’s rule for decades – is facing strong headwinds, with surging global oil prices and uncertainty over the war in Ukraine adding to tensions with the US and its allies, all on top of the growing costs of stringent lockdowns at home. China’s economy grew 4.8 per cent in the first quarter from a year ago, with many economists forecasting it will miss the official full-year target of around 5.5 per cent this year. In previous years, the party has mainly solicited opinions from its senior members and a limited number of non-party elites. In January 2017, ahead of the 19th party congress in October, comment was sought from 4,700 party committee cadres at provincial and municipal level, as well as from some non-party members, according to Xinhua. By August, the exercise had garnered 118 written proposals, including 33 from senior cadres and top leaders. The unprecedented decision to invite comments from the general public shows the “democratic style of work” of the top leadership and showcases the party’s “confidence and openness”, as well as innovation in the internet era, according to the People’s Daily webpage set up for submissions. Participants are required to act “civilised and rationally”, choose from the eight aspects and write between 20 and 1,000 words. They must also submit their age range, party membership status, occupation, mobile phone number and location. China pledges ‘strictest, most resolute’ measures to halt Omicron spread Some entries published on the People’s Daily website include calls for more support for disadvantaged groups, including helping disabled people get jobs, teaching the elderly how to use smartphones, and improving infrastructure in rural areas. Some suggestions echo actions already taken by the party, such as strengthening controls over digital content, boosting confidence in Chinese culture, and stepping up the construction of big data centres. Under China’s censorship, there are no comments on sensitive issues, such as the handling of the pandemic. According to Xinhua, the entries will be sorted and analysed by the relevant government departments before they are presented to the party congress.