Idealism gives way to rubber-stamp reality of congress

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2008, 12:00am

When the Shanghai People's Congress opens tomorrow, new deputy Hong Gang hopes he will be able to do something to help his constituency, migrant workers.

'I hope it can better link ordinary people and government officials,' the shipyard worker said

But his idealism is likely to come up against political reality. The government hand-picked Mr Hong and hundreds of other congress deputies and they are expected to rubber-stamp decisions already made.

The congress allows government leaders to chart the course of the city for the coming year. But the drama this year surrounds a leadership shuffle, which could bring several new vice-mayors and possibly even a new mayor, though Han Zheng might simply be confirmed again.

Shanghai has had three Communist Party secretaries since the removal of Chen Liangyu for corruption in September 2006, after he was sacked for diverting money from the city's pension fund. More than 25 government and state company officials have been implicated in the scandal.

Chen is awaiting trial, but the meeting is unlikely to offer clues about his fate, beyond pledges to fight corruption. Shanghai's new party secretary, Yu Zhengsheng, outlined the '10 Nos' for officials this week, including taking bribes and abuse of power.

In an annual work report, Mr Han is expected to announce Shanghai's 16th year of double-digit economic growth. Gross domestic product rose by 12 per cent in 2006 and last year's growth is forecast to surpass the government's target of 9 per cent, despite pledges to stress the quality of growth instead of its speed.

As in the rest of the mainland, inflation is creeping up, with the city's consumer price index rising 5.2 per cent year on year in November, causing grumbling over food costs.

Shanghai has achieved strong economic growth in part through infrastructure projects linked to the 2010 World Expo. In the past two months alone, the city finished three metro lines, announced plans to build an artificial island in Hangzhou Bay, broke ground on several expo structures and quietly restarted work on a maglev train line extension.

The extension of the maglev perhaps best illustrates how removed congress deputies are from Shanghai residents. Thousands of people participated in protests against the project earlier this month, complaining the government had not held public hearings or addressed their concerns about the train passing close to their homes.

'We have to make our voices heard,' said one resident who joined the week-long protests.

If the maglev is discussed at the congress, it will be behind closed doors and residents do not expect any progress.

The annual meeting of the congress also gives anyone in Shanghai with a grievance a platform to protest, though police tend to keep demonstrators away from the venue, the Shanghai Exhibition Centre.