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Rubber Stamp

Cui, Mu / gb
March 6, 2013

Every March, China's National People's Congress convenes. The constitution calls it the highest government body, and yet, its members have never voted down a bill from the country's leaders.

Image: China Photos/Getty Images

Self-confidence and assertiveness are not words generally associated with China's highest legislative body. When the National People's Congress (NPC) convenes in March security is tighter than usual around the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Thousands of extra police are on duty to ensure a smooth and undisrupted meeting of the 3,000 deputies that make up the world's largest parliament.

But size isn't everything, and in this case, does not automatically translate into power. China's legislators don't have much to say in the decision-making process.

What laws and other measures are implemented in the Middle Kingdom are dictated by the leaders of the Communist party.

The legislative period lasts five years in China and the plenary session of the NPC is from March 5-17 this year.

The agenda for the deputies is a marathon of voting to fill key positions, such as the office of president, the National Council, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the attorney general. The change of leadership, which began last November at the 18th party congress, will then be completed.

No surprises are expected. In its entire history, the NPC has never rejected a law, draft proposal, audit, accountability report, or personnel decision from the country's leadership.

Career deputies

The reason for this is that the deputies are not directly elected by the people. Even if it is called the National People's Congress, the representatives are hand-picked at the provincial level by party stalwarts.

Shen Jilan, (Photo: http://english.globalgujaratnews.com/article/84-year-old-woman-only-chinese-to-be-elected-12-times/A55 Copyright: http://english.globalgujaratnews.com)
Shen Jilan has attended every party congress since 1954Image: globalgujaratnews.com

The 2,987 parliamentarians for the new legislative period through 2018 were already "elected" in January.

Once again among them is Shen Jilan. The 84-year-old has been a NPC member since the body's inception in 1954 and she is the only person alive today to have attended every party congress.

Shen is also known for her 2010 pronouncement that she has never voted 'no.' This covers the time of the infamous Cultural Revolution, as well as the reform polices of later years. Her reasoning: As a deputy you should obey the party. Former president, Jiang Zemin, once called Shen Jilan a "national treasure."

Dream results

Most of the time, votes in the NPC end with very high approval ratings.

This Xinhua file photo taken in December 2004 shows the aerial view of the Three Gorges Dam in Yichang, central China's Hubei Province. (AP Photo / Xinhua, Du Huaju)
The PNC is essentially just a rubber stamp for the decisions of party leadersImage: AP

One example: During the nomination process for outgoing president, Hu Jintao, in 2008 there were 2,956 'yes' votes, three 'no' votes and five abstentions - an approval rating of more than 99 percent.

Even minimal resistance to the party line is a rare bird in the NPC, but something akin to it did occur in 1992.

During a vote to approve the construction of the controversial Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River only 67 percent of the deputies voted in favor of the project. Despite the two-thirds majority, it was a slap in the face for the sitting prime minister, Li Peng.

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