The annual “two sessions (liang hui)” －China’s National People's Congress (NPC), the top legislature, and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) － will be convening on March 5th and March 3rd respectively. The annual “two sessions” are big political events of contemporary China. The issues of “two sessions” include all aspects of the national economy, social and political development, defense and foreign policy, and the people's livelihood. During the annual “two sessions”, China’s numerous momentous decisions and policies orientation are supposed to be framed up.
Nowadays, the “two sessions” have become media events. Journalists from various countries come to cover them. Why does the “two sessions” draw great attention home and abroad? The reason is that the “two sessions” are the main parts of China’s contemporary political system and the essential procedure of the operating mechanism of political system. Specifically, at the plenary sessions, the Chinese leadership produces work reports awaiting NPC’s approval. Although the NPC has thus far never failed to approve a work report by the Party, these votes are no longer unanimous. In addition, during NPC sessions the Chinese leadership holds press conferences with foreign reporters, and this is one of the few opportunities Western reporters have of asking unscripted questions of the Chinese leadership.
The People's Congress System is the highest state body and the only legislative house in the People's Republic of China as empowered by China’s Constitution. It consists of National People's Congress (NPC) and People's Congresses at local levels. The NPC is somewhat similar to the U.S. Congress, whose main functions and powers are legislating, amending laws and supervising its implementation, reviewing and approving the government budget and the report on its implementation. Different from the U.S. Congress, though, the NPC is the highest organ of state power and its deputies are far more than the U.S. congressmen. Being the top power, the NPC also has right empowered by the Constitution to elect the top leaders of PRC, including President and Vice President, to decide on the choice of Premier of the State Council nominated by the President. The term of NPC is five years and it holds its general convention once a year. Between the two conventions, power is exercised by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress which contains about 150 members.
The Deputies and Tenure of NPC
There are close to 3000 deputies (members) to the NPC organized into 34 delegations including all China’s provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities as well as Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and PLA. The delegations are elected according to the proportion principle among all provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities while the delegations from Hong Kong and Macau are elected via an electoral college rather than by popular vote, but do include significant political figures who are residing in the regions. Deputies representing Taiwan, whose number is thirteen, are elected by a constituency composed of PRC residents who are or were previously domiciled in Taiwan, or who have ancestry in Taiwan. Recently, the Taiwan delegation is increasingly composed of Taiwanese merchants residing on the mainland and overseas Taiwanese who returned to the mainland. The proportion principle is not applicable to minority ethnic groups due to ensure their deputies.
The annual plenary session is summoned by Standing Committee of the NPC which is composed of Chairman, Vice-Chairmen, Secretary General and committee members. None on the NPC Standing Committee shall hold office in any of the administrative, judicial or procuratorial organs of the state and it should include the minority members. The NPC has nine Special Committees referring to ethnic affairs, law, internal and judicial affairs, finance and economy, education science culture and public health, foreign affairs, overseas Chinese, environment protection and resources conservation and agriculture and rural development.
Functions and Powers
The NPC has the top power in China, it can interpret Constitutional and statutory provisions, supervise their enforcement, enact and amend basic laws governing criminal offences, civil affairs, State organs and other matters, examine and approve the plan/guideline for national economic and social development and the reports on its implementation, examine and approve the budgets of their respective administrative areas as well as the reports on the implementation of the budgets, supervise the performance of the State Council, the Central Military Commission, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate, draw up state laws, decide on important state affairs, elect and remove the top leaders of state , administrative, judicial and procuratorial organs and decide on the ratification and abrogation of treaties and important agreements concluded with foreign states.
Since the early 1990s, the NPC has moved away from its previous role as a symbolic but powerless rubber-stamp legislature, and has become a forum for mediating policy differences between different parts of the Party, the government, and groups of society. For the NPC to formally defeat a proposal put before it is a rare, but not non-existent event, and the NPC has been quite active in being the forum in which legislation is debated before being put to a vote.
In practice, although the final votes on laws of the NPC often return a high affirmative vote, a great deal of legislative activity occurs in determining the content of the legislation to be voted on. A major bill often takes years to draft, and a bill sometimes will not be put before a final vote if there is significant opposition to the measure. With respect to proposals by the State Council of the People's Republic of China, the NPC has rejected a bill on maritime safety, and it is no longer uncommon for the State Council to amend or withdraw a bill on account of NPC opposition.
Bian Ji is an independent political analyst based in Shanghai.