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Understanding the NPC

Every March, top lawmakers and political advisors gather in the capital from all over the country to attend the "lianghui," or "two meetings" where they review the performance of the government over the past year and hear new policies and major economic targets.



The two parts of the "lianghui" are the National People's Congress (NPC), which is the country's top legislature, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a body that advises the government on a range of issues. The meetings typically last about 10 days.



Why is it important?

Premier Li Keqiang delivers a report on the government's work to the 3,000 delegates on the first day of the NPC conclave, which this year begins March 5. His press conference on the final day (March 15) is also closely watched because he fields questions from foreign journalists. The report Li delivers will announce China's targeted GDP growth for the year and other key figures, such as the national defense budget.



Compared to the Communist Party's big meetings, the "lianghui" is more visible, perhaps intended to provide the public with a bit of political theater.



What is the National People's Congress?

Technically it is the highest organ of state power. Its roughly 3,000 delegates meet once a year to ratify or approve policies, laws, the budget and top government personnel changes, which are mostly placed before it by other official organs. A 175-member NPC Standing Committee runs the legislature and passes laws between the annual meetings. It is chaired by Zhang Dejiang, No. 3 in the Communist Party after Xi Jinping and Li.



Has the NPC ever rejected legislation?

It has never voted down a proposed law, which has raised questions as to its function. However, since the legislature held its first meeting in 1954, there have been increasing instances of a lack of consensus. In 1982, three delegates abstained from a vote for the first time. The first "no" vote was cast six year later when Taiwan delegate Huang Shunxing voted against a nomination for chairman of the NPC's Education, Science, Culture and Public Health Committee. Then in 1992, only two-thirds of the legislature voted for the Three Gorges Dam project. More recently, hundreds of delegates have voted against or abstained from voting on the work reports given by the head of top prosecutor's office and the chief judge of the Supreme People's Court.



Who can be an NPC member?

Delegates are elected to five-year terms mostly by provincial people's congresses, who themselves are elected by lower-level assemblies. Only delegates at the lowest level – the county level or equivalent – are directly elected by the public. The People's Liberation Army also picks some members. The NPC has 2,943 members this year, meaning each one represents about 670,000 people. Some 406 delegates represent China's 55 ethnic minorities.



Then what does the CPPCC do?

The CPPCC is a collection of advisors that give party and government bodies suggestions on economic, political, cultural and societal issues. The membership is more varied than the NPC, and not everyone is a party member. Many CPPCC members are leading figures in fields such as academics, the legal profession and the business world. The body also has some star power, with luminaries like former NBA star Yao Ming and Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan holding posts.




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