Mar 03, 2014 05:23 PM

Caixin Explains: The 'Lianghui' Meetings

(Beijing) – Top lawmakers and political advisors from all over the country are gathering in the capital this week for this year's "lianghui," or sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

The NPC will meet from March 5 to 13, and the CPPCC runs from March 3 to 12. The public and China watchers are especially interested in the meetings because they are the first to be held since the Communist Party announced a reform blueprint at the third full meeting of its 18th Central Committee in November.

Premier Li Keqiang will deliver his first government work report at the start of the NPC. Major economic targets – including rates for GDP growth and inflation – will be included in the report. Although the central government has toned down the importance of GDP growth, many economists expect it to set a target of 7.5 percent for 2014.

The public is also highly concerned with how the government will work out details for its reform initiative, especially measures regarding changing state-owned enterprises, the land market and handling corruption and pollution.

The following are the basics on the "lianghui."

What roles do the NPC and CPPCC play in Chinese politics?

The NPC is the country's top legislature and is technically the highest organ of state power. It meets every year to approve policies, laws, the budget and significant personnel changes. The CPPCC is China's top political advisory body, and consists of representatives from different sections of society. Members of both bodies are elected to five-year terms. The "lianghui" are held every March in the capital.

The 175-member NPC Standing Committee exercises power when the full legislative body is not in session. The current leadership lineup of the NPC, which was installed in March 2013, is led by chairman Zhang Dejiang. He is a member of the party's seven-man Politburo Standing Committee. The NPC Standing Committee also has 13 vice chairpersons from diverse backgrounds, including the judiciary, local governments and other professions.

The first NPC meeting was held in September 1954, when the first constitution of the People's Republic was approved. Before that, the CPPCC had acted as the top policymaking body since the country was founded in 1949.

How are NPC members elected?

The NPC consists of about 3,000 delegates elected by the provincial people's congresses, whose members are in turn elected by lower-level assemblies. Only the lowest level of people's congress delegates – at county level or equivalent – are directly elected by their electorate.

In 2013, the 12th NPC had 2,987 delegates, 699 of them women. Shen Jilan, an 84-year-old farmer from the northern province of Shanxi, is the longest-serving NPC delegate. She was first elected in 1954.

Are there foreign participants in the 'lianghui' sessions?

All NPC delegates and CPPCC representatives must be Chinese nationals. On March 2, at a press conference for this year's CPPCC, spokesperson Lu Xinhua said Chinese law does not recognize dual nationalities and no CPPCC representative holds foreign citizenship.

Delegations from foreign parliament have been invited to participate in the annual sessions for exchange purposes. The first foreign delegation to attend an NPC meeting came from Finland in 1956. Since then, the NPC has received more than 100 foreign delegations.

Since 1983, press conferences have been held for each NPC meeting and foreign reporters have since allowed to participate in those.

Do NPC delegates always reach a consensus?

Three NPC delegates abstained from a vote for the first time in 1982. Six years later the first "no" vote was cast when Taiwan delegate Huang Shunxing voted against a nomination for chairman of the NPC's Education, Science, Culture and Public Health Committee. The NPC has never voted down a piece of legislation put in front of it by eligible government organs, including the State Council or the top court or prosecutor's office.

How much is spent on the annual sessions?

A U.S. reporter asked this question in 2011, and for the first time the CPPCC released its spending figures after that year's meeting. The press office of the political advisory body said some 59 million yuan was spent to host the meeting. Since then, the CPPCC has released its spending figures every year. The figure for 2011 was 66.4 million yuan and that for 2012 was 68.9 million yuan. The budget for the 2013 meeting was 75 million yuan, but the actual spending figures have not been released.

The NPC has never released any spending figures. The central government pays for delegates' accommodation, and local governments from around the country pay for their delegates to travel to the capital. The Beijing city government pays for security and related urban arrangements.

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