The NPC concluded its annual session in 2022 on Friday, March 11. Among other actions taken, it approved four pieces of legislation: the first set of major amendments to the Organic Law of Local People’s Congresses at All Levels and Local People’s Governments at All Levels (“Local Organic Law”) [地方各级人民代表大会和地方各级人民政府组织法] in over two decades; a decision governing the elections of delegates to the next (14th) NPC; and two measures for electing 14th NPC delegates from Hong Kong and Macao, respectively. We will cover the decision on 14th NPC elections in a forthcoming post that looks at how seats in the NPC are allocated to various electoral units and demographic groups. Below, we briefly summarize the other three pieces of legislation.
Local Organic Law Amendment
The Local Organic Law is the governing statute of local people’s congresses and people’s governments. It provides for their organizations, functions and powers, and procedures. It was last substantially updated in 1995 and subsequently went through two rounds of limited amendments in 2004 and 2015. The changes approved last Friday roughly fall into three categories.
First, a subset of amendments are technical in nature: they conform the Local Organic Law’s outdated language to newer legal developments, especially major amendments to the Budget Law [预算法] and Legislation Law [立法法] in 2014 and 2015, respectively, as well as the creation of supervision commissions under the 2018 Constitutional Amendment and Supervision Law [监察法].
Second, most other amendments codify local people’s congresses’ and governments’ existing practices, including those undertaken pursuant to relevant national policy documents. To highlight a few:
- Based on local practice during the first several months of the Covid-19 epidemic in China, a new provision expressly authorizes local people’s congresses to reschedule their annual sessions (art. 14, para. 2 as amended). Another new provision authorizes local governments to form “cross-departmental command and coordination mechanisms” to deal with “major emergencies,” which likely was also written with the pandemic in mind (art. 81).
- The soft requirement that elections for the heads of core local institutions—people’s congresses, governments, supervision commissions, courts, and procuratorates—“generally” be competitive is eliminated. Now the Law provides only that those elections “may” be competitive (art. 27). An explanatory document notes that this change was made to reflect “the actual practice over the years.”
- The new article 75 is the first national statutory provision that addresses, albeit in general terms, the formulation of “administrative normative documents” [行政规范性文件], also translated as regulatory documents. It requires local governments to follow a series of procedures—evaluations and debates, solicitations of public comments, legality reviews, collective discussions and decisionmaking, and publication—when formulating regulatory documents that “involve the rights and obligations of [private] individuals and organizations.” This article incorporates the procedural requirements first laid out in a May 2018 State Council document that sought to rein in regulatory documents.
Finally, a few amendments will bring about actual changes on the ground. Of note, one amendment allows for up to 10 additional seats on the standing committees of provincial- and municipal-level people’s congresses (art. 47). The number of seats on provincial- and municipal-level standing committees has not been changed since 1979 and 2004, respectively. Adding additional seats, according to the explanatory document, would increase the representativeness of local standing committees and improve the quality of lawmaking and oversight.
The Local Organic Law amendment has taken effect on March 12.
NPC Election Measures for Hong Kong & Macao
Under the law governing the elections of NPC delegates, the NPC is to separately prescribe the measures for electing delegates who represent China’s two special administrative regions (SARs), Hong Kong and Macao, in the national legislature. Since the two cities’ handover to China, each NPC has adopted a pair of such measures for electing SAR delegates to the next NPC. The 13th NPC did so last Friday.
The fundamental scheme for electing the SARs’ NPC delegates has remained the same under each iteration of the electoral measures. Every five years, Hong Kong and Macao would each form an ad hoc electoral college, whose members are charged with nominating and electing the corresponding city’s delegates to the next NPC.
Last Friday’s election measures for Hong Kong have made a significant change to that scheme by shrinking the size of Hong Kong’s NPC electoral college. Under previous iterations of Hong Kong’s NPC election measures, the electoral college had an ever-growing membership: each new electoral college consisted of the members of the previous electoral college, as well as the Chinese citizens among Hong Kong’s CPPCC members and Election Committee members who previously had not sat on the NPC electoral college. The electoral college that elected Hong Kong’s current NPC delegates had 1,989 members. For the 14th NPC, however, the electoral college will consist only of the Chinese citizens among the 1,500 members of Hong Kong’s new Election Committee, now tightly controlled by the pro-establishment camp as a result of the 2021 electoral overhaul. The goal was, again, to implement the principle of “patriots governing Hong Kong.”
The NPC has also tightened the eligibility requirements for both SARs’ NPC delegates in two ways. First, it raised the required number of signatures a candidate needs to run in the NPC elections to 15, from 10. The stated rationale was to “preserve the solemnity” of the elections and to ensure that the nominees would not be “too dispersed” [过于分散]—or put differently, to limit the potential number of nominees.
Second, both election measures now newly provide that any candidate, delegate-elect, or sitting delegate who is convicted by a court for “endangering national security” will be disqualified. The measures do not further define that phrase or reference any criminal statute. In the case of Hong Kong, therefore, it is likely that a conviction of any national security-related crime—not limited to those under the Hong Kong National Security Law—would be a basis for disqualification.