National People's Congress

Draft amendment aims for electoral balance

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2009, 12:00am

The national legislature yesterday started to review a draft amendment of the electoral law that would give rural residents greater representation in county-level congresses and, indirectly, higher-level congresses.

Many analysts saw the move as a small step that would make the voting system look better, but would bring no substantial improvement to the mechanism of electing congress members on any level if no competition was allowed.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress yesterday began its regular two-monthly meeting, and on top of the agenda of the four-day session is to review the draft amendment to give rural residents representation in congress that reflects their share of the population.

The current law, in effect since 1995, counts four peasants to one urban resident in deciding how many representatives they could elect to local congresses - a policy that attempted to address the urban-rural imbalance of the early 1990s.

But the mainland's urbanisation in the past decade has changed that reality. Last year 54.3 per cent of people lived in the country, and the ratio is expected to be even by 2015.

On the mainland, only representatives at county people's congresses are elected directly by the people. Above that, the system is indirect, as deputies to the NPC and provincial-level congresses are elected by the congresses at the next lower level.

Jiang Mingan , law professor at Peking University, agreed that enlarging the representation of rural residents in the electoral system was a positive move in terms of offering people equal electoral opportunities based on their population base.

'It will certainly make the electoral system look good, at least on paper,' Jiang said. 'It offers the impression that the country has tried to award peasants an equal share of representation in congresses with urban residents.'

But merely enlarging rural representation would do little to ensure peasants' interests were better represented because not all rural residents were educated well enough to represent their peers' interests or elect their own representatives to local congresses, Jiang said.

'Quiet frankly, most peasant representatives to the congress lack the knowledge and ability to bring up issues that peasants really care about,' he said. 'Many of them were just used by the government to show diversity in legislatures.'

Cai Dingjian , professor at China University of Political Science and Law, also endorsed the move to award rural residents a greater representation in congresses, but warned there was no effective mechanism to allow peasants to elect their own representatives in local congresses.

'Even with larger representation, I don't think peasants really know whom should they vote for, as the system usually offers little information on the candidates who compete for those spots,' Cai said.

By his calculation, among the 2,900 members elected to the NPC, 1,200 are government officials and 600 are entrepreneurs, while about 90 are peasant representatives.

The amendment also stipulates that all elections be contested - meaning the number of candidates should exceed the number of seats.

Cai suggested the central government should reform its overall political structure to allow more freedom of speech and have candidates openly compete for votes. 'Candidates should tell voters clearly about what they stand for before voters go to the polls,' Cai said. 'Only in this way can people's interests be better represented by those they elect.'

The review of the draft amendment of the Electoral Law was the first reading by the congress. It usually takes two or three readings to pass an important law or amendment in the mainland's legislative system.