Lawmakers from across China began arriving in Beijing on Sunday for the annual parliament session that is widely considered a "test run" for the Olympic host city ahead of the Games.
The First Session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC) and the First Session of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), set to open here on Wednesday and Monday respectively, will put to test Beijing's environment, traffic, public services as well as the government's capacity in dealing with emergencies.
The annual event in the wake of the worst winter weather crisis in 50 years has become particularly unusual, with the Beijing Games some five months away and with personnel changes, government reshuffles and a wide range of issues concerning the interests of the people high on its agenda.
From the NPC deputies and political advisors to men in the street, the whole nation is hoping that the "Two Sessions" will address the consumer price index, housing, medical service, education, social security, corruption and many other issues faced by China in its drive towards a harmonious and moderately prosperous society.
HEARING VOICES OF THE PEOPLE
The parliament session has drawn widespread attention among the public since three weeks before its opening, with wide participation in online polls on the proposed focal points of the meetings as well as messages and proposals the public wishes to convey to Premier Wen Jiabao.
An online poll named "I have a question for the Premier", hosted by the official xinhuanet.com, has received more than 60,000 postings by Sunday, ranging from national economic growth and environment woes to better social welfare for the handicapped and rural residents.
"I hope the NPC will draft a new law to ensure a basic allowance for the handicapped people, so that their ageing parents won't have to be laden with debts," reads a posting by an anonymous mother whose meagre pension could hardly provide for her handicapped son.
Her son, she said, was denied a job and and had no way to feed himself.
One Internet user in the eastern Jiangxi Province complained of the massive relocation of polluting enterprises from cities to the countryside. "These businesses, mostly mines, brickyards and small iron mills, will seriously contaminate the air and water in the rural areas," he said.
Hu Xiaoyan, one of China's first three migrant workers to become NPC deputies, said she would call for better pay for the estimated 150 million migrants and more protection of women workers.
"I'd also propose more efforts from the government to care for the migrant workers' children who remain in the countryside, away from their parents," said 34-year-old Hu, mother of twin girls.
This year's "Two Sessions" will be more transparent with name lists of the NPC deputies and political advisors published on the Internet, along with details of their proposals and development of the sessions.
"To enhance transparency is a crucial step in achieving democracy," said Dai Yanjun, a specialist on Party building at the Party School of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.
"It shows the Party is forging ahead democracy following the 17th CPC National Congress," he said, referring to the five-yearly event in October 2007.
The moderate wind sweeping across Beijing on Sunday is widely expected to clear up the city's misty skies that forecast a dust storm the day before.
Beijing has been working hard against environment woes, one of the biggest worries that overshadow the forthcoming Olympics.
For at least a decade, the misty skies and suffocating dust made an inevitable topic during the annual parliament session that meets in early March, a most likely season for sandstorms.
"I submitted a proposal on sand control several years ago," said Dr. Wang Haibo, a political advisor and agronomist from the northern Hebei Province. "I'm glad to see sandstorms occur less often in Beijing in the recent two years."
As part of its latest efforts to cut emission, the city has introduced a number of environment-friendly buses for deputies to shuttle between their hotels and the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing where the meetings will be held.
The minimum fuel consumption of these new buses is only five liters per 100 kilometers, Beijing Times reported.
The Beijing weather bureau is closely monitoring the potential cold current, gales, dust storm and rain during the "Two Sessions" in an effort to generate more precise forecasts and analysis for the deputies, a spokesman with the Beijing Meteorological Bureau told Xinhua.
The Chinese are increasingly alert to adverse weather following the heavy snow and sleet that hit central, eastern and southern parts of the country in mid January and lasted for weeks.
China Meteorological Administration (CMA) has identified weather forecast services for the Olympic Games opening on Aug. 8 as "a priority" for this year as the country may face much more frequent adverse weather.
The CMA started on Thursday to release a daily meteorological report to the "Two Sessions" and will hand out booklets on extreme weather and global warming to the deputies.