BEIJING: China decided Monday to postpone its annual parliament session for the first time since the Cultural Revolution, as the country battles the coronavirus outbreak.
Top Communist Party leaders including President Xi Jinping attend each year’s gathering of the National People’s Congress, which rubber-stamps bills, budgets and personnel moves already decided by the party.
But much of China has ground to a halt in the battle against an outbreak that has infected nearly 80,000 people and claimed more than 2,500 lives.
The NPC’s Standing Committee met Monday and decided it was “appropriate to postpone” the parliament, which was due to start on March 5, according to state broadcaster CCTV. It will decide later on a new date.
Many top officials who would normally attend the meeting are consumed with tackling the virus in their home regions. And Beijing has imposed quarantine measures on those arriving from other parts of China, a practical challenge for a gathering of nearly 3,000 delegates.
Holding the event would have meant bad optics with China’s leaders arriving in face masks for a meeting that is highly stage-managed to present the image of a Communist Party in perfect control of the country.
Ling Li, a lecturer on Chinese politics at the University of Vienna, said in advance of the announcement that maintaining the NPC conference next month would be “unreasonable.”
“(It would) signal a desperate effort of the authorities to keep up the appearance of political normality, which is not there,” she said.
The gathering generates global interest as a glimpse into China’s political and economic policy priorities for the coming year.
The 2018 session approved the removal of presidential term limits – handing Xi a potentially lifelong tenure.
With Mao Zedong as the meeting’s chair, the NPC first convened in September 1954 in Beijing, where delegates passed the new constitution of the People’s Republic of China, five years after its founding.
The legislature met almost every year after that for the next decade, but paused during the decade of political turmoil ushered in by Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
It re-convened in 1978, two years after Mao’s death. Since 1985, it has been held each March – and on March 5 specifically for the last two decades. — AFP