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People’s congresses: democracy behind China’s success story

Updated: Mar 3,2017 4:21 PM     Xinhua

BEIJING — China’s system of people’s congresses is in the spotlight again as the fifth session of the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s top legislature, will open on March 5.

Rather than creating policy conundrums or delays — as is often the case with parliaments in some Western nations when the ruling party or coalition does not hold a majority — the people’s congress system lends support to and supervises the government to achieve effective governance and rule of law.

The NPC Standing Committee, a permanent body of the NPC, provides oversight and has been active in inspecting whether governments comply with the law. In 2016, it conducted six inspections, covering about 30 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

Take the inspection on the enforcement of the Environmental Protection Law, for instance. The NPC Standing Committee made a report after inspecting factories and holding seminars and organized a Q&A-style meeting with officials from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and other departments about issues in law enforcement.

Additionally, a document was sent to the General Office of the State Council, which is expected to give a follow-up report in April on how the government has handled the issues.

Such a process is conducive to solving problems popping up in law enforcement and safeguarding the authority of laws.

According to the Constitution, the people’s congress system is the fundamental political system in China, with about 2.6 million deputies at various levels.

At the pinnacle of the system sits the NPC, which supervises the State Council, China’s cabinet, as well as the top court and procuratorate.

With nearly 3,000 deputies, the NPC is different from the legislatures in Western political systems.

In China’s political system, the NPC is the supreme organ of state power. The central government, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate answer to the NPC and are supervised by it. In the West, the parliament stands equally with the administration and justice arms, and the three balance and checks each another.

This vertical design has the advantages of uniting different forces in governance and avoiding internal frictions.

The system of people’s congresses is designed to include people from various backgrounds and cover a good cross-section of society.

Compared with legislators in the West who make politics their career and usually have a staff and campaign team, NPC deputies are part-time and many of them are ordinary citizens.

A deputy to the NPC can be the country’s president or a farmer, a celebrated tycoon or a migrant worker, a lawyer or an official.

As an NPC deputy, Zhou Guohui, director of the Department of Science and Technology of Zhejiang province, proposed a free trade park in the eastern province’s Zhoushan City during the sessions in 2013, 2014 and 2016.

His persistence worked. Last August, the province was approved, together with six other regions, to set up a free-trade zone.

Motions and proposals initiated by Zhou also include one in 2015 stressing the need to boost development of the big data industry. In August of that year, the State Council approved an action framework for promoting big data.

Zhou is only one example of how people’s congresses and their deputies contribute to effective decision-making in China.

Zhou’s suggestions originated from his study and close contact with local communities. Actually, NPC deputies at various levels are key channels for community voices, reflecting local opinions and problems and enabling people to be masters of the nation. Deputies are both entitled and obliged to stand for the people’s interests and express their requests, rather than acting as the voice of money and power.

Though they are part-time, NPC deputies are actively engaged in state affairs. At the annual full session, they review and vote on important legal documents and personnel changes, including electing president and vice president of China every five years, as well as submit motions and proposals.

At the 2016 session they approved the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), a fundamental guide to ensuring China becomes a well-off society. This year the deputies will review the draft general provisions of civil law of China, a landmark move by China to step up protection of civil rights and advance rule of law.

Since 2005, around 500 motions have been submitted by deputies to every annual session of the NPC. The 2016 session received around 460 motions, in addition to over 8,600 suggestions.

When not in session, they interact with the people, take up training programs, and participate in inspections of law enforcement and surveys on important or urgent issues. Some of them are invited to observe bimonthly legislative sessions of the NPC Standing Committee.

There are five levels of people’s congresses. The deputies are elected by their respective constituencies, either directly or indirectly. NPC deputies are elected by the people’s congresses of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. At the lower levels of township and county, deputies to people’s congresses are elected directly by voters, accounting for a majority of deputies at all levels. They elect deputies to people’s congresses of cities, who in turn elect deputies at the provincial level.

NPC deputies are not divided into different caucuses according to party background but into 35 delegations based on where they are elected from, including 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, in addition to Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and the military.

Such an arrangement is pragmatic, given China’s large territory and huge population, and ensures that NPC deputies are true representatives of the people.

However, the people’s congresses are not just gatherings lasting a few days or weeks. When the NPC concludes its annual session, the NPC Standing Committee will exercise its power, holding bimonthly sessions to deliberate and adopt laws, among other matters.

Since Sept. 15, 1954, when about 1,200 deputies elected by universal suffrage gathered in Beijing to attend the first session of the first NPC, the people’s congress system has been regarded as an effective chain linking the aspirations of the people, the goals of the nation and the responsibilities of legislators.

Election fraud is prohibited, and deputies elected through fraudulent means will be unseated.

In September 2016, 45 NPC deputies from Liaoning province were disqualified for vote buying and bribery during the 2013 election, a clear signal of the nation’s firm resolve in ensuring a corruption-free system.

Unlike multiparty systems in the West, there are no majority party or minority parties in the NPC. The NPC upholds the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The proposition of the CPC becomes the will of the state upon the approval of the NPC.

China’s success story over the past decades has demonstrated that the system of people’s congresses conforms to the conditions in China. In fact, the NPC has been a key part of that story.

There is certainly no need for China to copy the Western system, a move which will only lead to chaos and failure, as the experiences of certain countries have shown.