Draft proposes equality for urban and rural residents
Amending China's Electoral Law, a key issue for this year's session of the National People's Congress (NPC) that opens on Friday, is expected to give rural residents as much say in national decision-making as their urban counterparts.
The draft amendment to the Electoral Law has proposed equal electoral rights for urban and rural citizens, which, if passed, will "expand people's democracy and safeguard their rights to be the masters of their own destiny", Li Zhaoxing, spokesman for the third session of the 11th NPC, the country's top legislature, told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.
The draft amendment, for the first time in China's history, 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, said Han Dayuan, a Constitution law professor with the Beijing-based Renmin University of China.
Under the existing law, each rural deputy represents four times as many people as an urban deputy. According to official calculations, it means some 960,000 rural people are represented by one NPC deputy, while 240,000 urban residents are represented by one deputy.
Currently, the NPC has about 3,000 deputies. Critics fear the current system helps a bias toward urban issues.
Li said the existing imbalance in representation among lawmakers started in 1953, when the first version of the Electoral Law was adopted. At that time, the law stipulated that one NPC deputy is elected for 800,000 people, but in municipalities and cities with a population of more than 500,000, every 100,000 people could have a NPC deputy.
"At that time, the number of people represented by each rural NPC deputy was eight times the number represented by each urban deputy, but it was in line with the reality in China back then," Li said.
In the early 1950s, there were about eight times more Chinese living in the countryside than in cities.
"To some extent, the different representation is unequal. But only such rules can show the true picture of the country and reflect the leading role of the working class," Deng Xiaoping, the then vice-premier, said in 1953.
Han also said the rule was "completely necessary" at that time because the rural population greatly outweighed the number of people in the cities. If such a rule was not in place, urban deputies would have been greatly outnumbered.
However, in 1995, with the population in cities growing enormously, the old ratio was narrowed to four rural residents for every urban resident.
And today, as the ratio of urban-to-rural residents has narrowed further, with experts expecting parity by 2015, Li said it is the moment to grant equal electoral rights to both groups.
"The change will provide an institutional guarantee for improving the people's congress system and advancing socialist democracy," he said.
However, experts mentioned that although the proposed 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," Chen Sixi, a NPC Standing Committee member, said.
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, or even local villagers or town leaders.
"But this could be further improved in the future with the reform of China's household registration system," Chen said.
Socialist law system
Li also said on Thursday that one of the key tasks for the 11th NPC is to ensure the establishment of a socialist law system with Chinese features by the end of this year - a goal set by the Communist Party of China at its 15th National Congress in 1997.
He said the law system consists of seven categories, including Constitution-related laws, civil and commercial laws, administrative laws, economic laws, social laws, criminal laws, litigation and non-litigation procedure laws.
These laws are integrated as a whole in three levels in terms of legal forces - national laws, administrative regulations and local regulations.
Li said to achieve the goal to form a socialist law system this year, the NPC is busy drafting key laws that will serve as pillars in the system, such as the social security law and administrative enforcement law. On the other hand, the top legislature is also making efforts to clear contradictions among various laws to pave the way for the law system.
However, NPC Standing Committee member Chen Sixi said legislators need to move faster to draft social laws in order to ensure the law system is established on time.
"None of the charity laws, social security law or the social assistant law have been adopted. We need to fill in the blanks as soon as possible," he said.