One step nearer equality

08:34, October 28, 2009      

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Observers tally votes in Foling, Chaohu, Anhui province, during an election for a new village head in this file photo taken in March 2008. Rural residents, such as those who took part in this election, stand to benefit from an amendment to the Electoral Law being discussed at the current NPC session. Xu Zhenhua

For the first time in China's history, rural people may be about to get as much say in national decision-making as their urban counterparts.

The nation's top legislature yesterday started to discuss a draft amendment to a law that - if passed - will ensure voters in the countryside have as much influence as voters in cities.

The change would mean voters across China would be equal when they choose deputies for the people's congresses, including the National People's Congress (NPC), which is the country's highest State body and its top legislative chamber.

The draft revision to the Electoral Law, which was tabled for first reading at the bimonthly legislative session of the 11th NPC Standing Committee, requires "both rural and urban areas to adopt the same ratio of deputies to the represented population in the election of people's congress deputies".

The change sets out to correct an imbalance in lawmaker elections, Li Shishi, director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, said yesterday while briefing legislators.

Under the existing law, each rural deputy represents four times as many people as an urban deputy. That means some 960,000 rural people are represented by each rural NPC deputy, while urban NPC deputies each represent 240,000 urban people. Currently, the NPC has about 3,000 deputies. Critics fear that the current system ensures a bias toward urban issues.

So far, the discussion and documentation do not include details of the number of people that will be represented by every deputy. Li said those specifics can be decided after the amendment is passed.

The new draft law also stipulates that the local electoral committee "should" ensure deputy candidates meet voters. Currently, the option of such meetings is there, but it is not a requirement.

The amendment will likely be submitted at the next legislative session, in December, and at an NPC plenary session next March, during which it is expected to get second and third reading, Li said.

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