Delegates edge closer to crossing the political lines
The annual sessions of local people's congresses and branches of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Guangdong attracted lots of media coverage before the Lunar New Year.
Proposals were made, and government reports, budgets and social development plans discussed.
Each year, the messages relayed at the annual sessions are scrutinised for indications of the government's intentions, with commentators basing their predictions on speeches by officials.
But just how effective is such supervision of government, how representative are the proposals, and how does the government respond to them?
Wang Fan, a new member of Guangzhou's CPPCC, said it had focused on particular issues and avoided political affairs.
'Many proposals should, in theory, be thought up and raised by government departments,' Wang, a deputy manager of Guangzhou Wanbao Group, said. 'We are doing political consultation and need to oversee the government to make sure it is a service-oriented government.'
Other members praised Wang but also said that tremendous political wisdom was required to be able to discuss political affairs without 'crossing the line'.
Another member, who refused to reveal his name, came up with a good idea for how to avoid crossing the line. 'All the policies are made by the government and agreed by the [Communist] Party,' he said. 'We can monitor how the government has carried out the policies. That would be safe.'
In Dongguan that day at another CPPCC session, Dongguan General Trade Union vice-chairman Ma Fengbiao warned four migrant worker members not to raise sensitive proposals in talks.
'You should be polite, and focus on the issue, not the person,' he said. 'You should care more about big things concerning people's livelihood, and not mention small sensitive problems.'
But who decides a proposal is sensitive and what criteria do they use when making that call?
Micoblog users criticised Ma, saying CPPCC members had the right to make sensitive proposals.
'The so-called people's congresses and CPPCCs are appointed by the party and the executive organisations. It is the normal way to make proposals in China,' one said.
Some accused Ma of blocking people from participation in discussion and management of state affairs, supposedly one of the CPPCCs' main functions.
'Isn't political consultation all about people with different interests finding out problems with those in power via participation in discussions of state affairs? Why does the CPPCC exist if people are prevented from raising issues they want to raise?' one asked.
Local CPPCC branches and people's congresses are among a small number of legal ways for people to make their voices heard by officials. As political advisory bodies, CPPCCs are made up of delegates from nominally independent political parties and organisations as well as independent members. Their main function is political consultation, exercising 'democratic' supervision and participating in the discussion and management of state affairs.
When asked about his decade as a lawmaker, Professor Guan Zhigang, a Shenzhen University historian and member of the Guangdong People's Congress, said it was exceptionally difficult for the mainland to push ahead with democratisation.
This year, Guan asked for details about how the provincial government's transport department had spent the 7.1 billion yuan (HK$8.75 billion) received from vehicle tolls last year. He did not receive an answer.
In the past, CPPCCs were characterised as 'flower vases' - symbolising multi-party co-operation under Communist leadership - and people's congresses as 'rubber stamps' that would agree with everything that government proposed.
People apparently have higher expectations now and are looking to members who can raise sensitive issues and are not afraid of 'crossing the line' to confront government about its faults.