China's National People's Congress (NPC), with nearly 3,000 deputies, is convening its annual session.[Special coverage]
The NPC is sometimes referred as the country's "parliamentary body", but it is largely different from the parliament in the political system in Western Europe and North America.
-- Power to the people vs. separation of powers
In China's political system, the NPC is an arrangement enabling Chinese citizens to exercise their power as "the master of state". The Constitution says the NPC is the highest body 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, unlike the Western system in which the parliament stands equally with the administration and court, and the powers of legislation, administration and justice balance and contain one another. This vertical design has the advantages of uniting different forces in governance and avoiding internal frictions.
The NPC elects the president and vice president of China as well as the chief justice and procurator-general. It also decides on the choice of the premier of the State Council upon nomination by the president.
-- Part-time people's representatives vs. full-time politicians
The NPC comprises a maximum of 3,000 deputies. The current 12th NPC has 2,943 deputies.
Unlike members of parliament in the West who take politics as their career and usually have their staff and campaign teams, NPC deputies are part-time and many of them are ordinary citizens.
The NPC is designed to include people from various backgrounds so as to realize a good cross-section. A deputy can be the country's president or a farmer, a celebrated tycoon or a migrant worker, a lawyer or a space scientist.
Being members of the people, NPC deputies are able to stand for the people's interests and express their requests, instead of acting as a speaker for money and power.
The electoral system of deputies to people's congresses is a mixture of direct and indirect elections. This is a pragmatic arrangement provided the large scale of China's territory and huge population.
There are five levels of people's congresses. At the lower levels of township and county, deputies to people's congresses are elected directly by voters, accounting for more than 90 percent 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 elected by people's congresses of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. Such an arrangement ensures that NPC deputies are true representatives of the people.
In 2016, China will start a new round of election of deputies to township and county-level people's congresses. More than 900 million Chinese are expected to vote and elect more than 2.5 million deputies.
Although being 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 as well as submit motions and proposals. When the session is off, they interact with the people, take up training programs, take part in inspections of law enforcement and surveys on important or urgent issues. Some of them are invited to observe bi-monthly legislative sessions.
-- Party's leadership vs. game of parties
The NPC upholds the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) which has no special interests of its own other than the interests of all Chinese people.
Through the NPC, the proposition of the ruling CPC becomes the will of the state in a due course of legal procedures. The process ensures the unity of Party leadership, the people being the master of the country, and the rule of law.
For instance, the 13th five-year national development plan (2016-2020) is being reviewed by NPC deputies at the ongoing session. It was drafted by the State Council, under a proposal raised by the CPC Central Committee.
Unlike the multi-party system in the West, there are no majority party or minority parties in the NPC. NPC deputies are not divided into different caucuses according to their party backgrounds 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.