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NPC&CPPCC Wrap-Up> Features
UPDATED: March 22, 2010 NO. 12 MARCH 25, 2010
Granting Equality
The latest amendment to the Electoral Law attempts to bridge the urban-rural gap and make advancements toward China's socialist democracy

The law does not specify the exact population a lawmaker would represent and the top legislature will decide the specific ratio in the near future.

Cai Dingjian, Director of the Constitution Research Center with the China University of Political Science and Law, said the realization of the equal rights between urban and rural areas will have a major impact on distribution of deputy quotas.

"For example, quotas for Beijing and Shanghai, which have a small rural population, may decrease while the quotas for big rural provinces, such as Sichuan and Anhui, may increase," he said.

He said the revision, considered major progress in the development of democracy in China, would help increase the number of farmer deputies to the NPC.

"The equality of political rights will lay the foundation for equality of many other rights, such as economic rights, educational rights and social and cultural rights," Cai said.

Farmer deputies are more familiar with the situation in the countryside and the change will help the top legislature better understand rural areas and make more scientific decisions, said Xu Anbiao, a member of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the NPC Standing Committee.

However, experts mentioned that although the amendment grants equal electoral rights to people across the country, it does not necessarily mean there would be the same number of farmer deputies as urban deputies in the NPC.

"The change will help increase the number of farmer deputies, but it will not necessarily result in parity," said Chen Sixi, a member of the NPC Standing Committee.

He said as the election of people's congress deputies is based on household registered population, it is possible for a rural election district to elect a non-farmer deputy, as the candidates could be business people or workers who still have their household registered in the rural area.

"But this could be further improved in the future with the reform of China's household registration system," Chen said.

Further revisions

The amendment stipulates that the number of grassroots deputies of farmers, workers and intellectuals should be guaranteed.

Currently, a large number of legislators in China are government officials and entrepreneurs, leaving few seats for farmers and workers.

Cai analyzed the composition of the 10th NPC (2003-07). Among the 2,988 delegates, more than 1,200 were government officials, some 600 were business delegates, while only around 80 were rural deputies, accounting for 3 percent of the total.

The amendment adds the election committee must organize more face-to-face contacts between candidates and electors to allow deputy candidates to introduce themselves and answer voters' questions.

Mo Jihong, a Constitution professor with the Law Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it is a step forward from the 2004 amendment, which stipulated that an election committee "should arrange" a meeting for candidates and voters, but didn't make such arrangements compulsory.

"The amendment allows voters more liberties to interact with deputies and choose their ideal candidates," Mo said.

On violations of statutory procedures in primary-level elections, the amendment clarifies that "elections of lawmakers shall be subject to supervision."

It also states family members or close relatives of candidates should not be permitted to act as balloting scrutinizers and tally clerks in the elections of deputies to people's congresses.

Under the amendment, the setup of polling stations, convening election meetings and the management of mobile polling boxes should be further standardized and improved. It also suggests setting up "confidential polling booths."

Violence, threats, corruption and other acts that disrupt elections should also be investigated and punished.

The number of deputies to the NPC is limited to within 3,000, the distribution of which is decided by the NPC Standing Committee, according to the law.

The law states a list of candidates to a people's congress must be made public 20 days before the election and officially announced five days before the election.

Electors may vote for or against or abstain from voting, or vote for people other than the candidates. Candidates who stand for election as deputies to a people's congress can be deemed elected "if they receive more than half of the votes."

Population in limbo

While trying to bring rural-urban representation into balance, the amendment did not address the country's floating population.

"The household registration system reform is proceeding but the conditions are not yet in place to solve this issue," Wang said.

The floating population is a very complicated group. Statistics show migrant workers are often indifferent to elections.

The weak link between elections and their interest contributes to their standstill to vote. A lack of education and poor living conditions also affect migrants' ability to participate in elections, as some can't even spare the time to vote, Chen said.

"At present, it's hard to work out a general rule for securing the floating population's electoral rights," he said.

China's voter registration system requires voters to register and cast their votes, and to be elected in the same place as their hukou (residence permit).

"Although China's law permits the floating population to cast their votes in their place of actual residence as long as they get certificates of qualification from their original residence, they don't like to return home just for a certificate that costs them time and money," Chen said.

Another issue arises from the time and work needed to manage the registration of migrants, he said.

"Missing registrations and duplicate registrations can hardly be avoided when it comes to the floating population, as different parts of China have different levels of development of information management and communications," Chen said.

Ma Jiantang, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, said in January 2010 that China has about 180 million people who work and live outside of their hometown.

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