Liu Xiang faces different hurdle as stars fluff their advisory lines
For a week or so, former Olympic champion hurdler Liu Xiang faced a personal obstacle that increased in size as the days went by: the mounting public criticism over his two-year absence from the annual CPPCC session.
In a last-minute attempt to salvage his battered image, Liu, who had been in the United States for three months for surgery to repair his right Achilles tendon, flew to Beijing two days before the session ended.
He attended a discussion session of his sports panel and yesterday's closing ceremony, apologising for his absence.
The 25-year-old athlete was appointed a delegate last year and made it clear that he did not prepare any proposals this year because he was 'young and was there mainly for study'. As modest as that sounds, the hurdler seemed to forget that as a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body, his mission was to advise on national issues.
And he was not alone. A prominent film director said during a television interview that he had wanted to fulfil his political commitment as a CPPCC delegate, but he was simply too busy with his full-time job.
The situation is not helped by fellow delegates regularly mobbing celebrities for pictures rather than reading reports or taking part in panel discussions. It is also common to see delegates sneak out for long tea breaks during the panel sessions.
The result, according to several outspoken delegates, has been wackier, poorer-quality proposals.
At the closing ceremony, CPPCC chairman Jia Qinglin described the annual session as a success in boosting confidence and strengthening unity for the nation's development.
But dissatisfied constitutional academics voiced discontent with the weakening political significance of the advisory body.
'Sixty years after its official establishment, it's high time that we reflected on the CPPCC system now,' China University of Political Science and Law professor Cai Dingjian said.
'The whole CPPCC has lost its political significance and seriousness, and become a big show.
'We have to admit that not everybody, such as the delegates from the art and entertainment industry, is enthusiastic about politics or has the capacity and expertise to advise on national issues. It's pointless trying to include everyone just because they have made certain achievements.'
But on a deeper level, the irrelevance was because the CPPCC's constitutional role as a united front organisation to placate other parties had expanded over time. CPPCC delegates did not have voting powers, as NPC deputies did, and they had no authority to monitor the government, rendering them powerless, Professor Cai said.
'Some delegates clearly understand they are expected to dress up, such as in traditional minority costumes, look happy, sing praises and make some proposals,' he said. 'Some don't bother, and some just do it because they think it looks bad if they don't have any proposals. It's a show.'
While agreeing that the CPPCC did provide a platform for expressing opinions, Professor Cai said the body's function was very limited, and it was not playing its monitoring function as well as the internet did.
'It has become a political decoration, and lost its political consultative function during the early years when it was first established,' Professor Cai said.