Genuine representation should be NPC's aim

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

The principle of equality does not apply when it comes to representation in the National People's Congress. The system favours people in cities and towns over those in rural areas. Draft legislation now being considered would amend rules so that deputies from different parts of the country speak with equal voices. That is a sensible step. But it will make little difference unless reforms also make elections more open, competitive and generally democratic.

People in urban areas have, since 1995, had four times the representation of their rural counterparts. Until reforms that year, the number of people represented by each rural deputy to local congresses was eight times that of those in towns. The disparity has naturally led to the contention that rural residents have different rights to city dwellers.

A flood of people moving from the countryside to urban centres in search of a better life has prompted authorities to review laws. When the first electoral law was enacted in 1953, the proportion of urban to rural residents was 13 to 87; it is now 46 to 50 and the ratio is expected to be equal in 2015. President Hu Jintao raised the prospect of reform at the 17th party congress two years ago and debate has since centred on whether there should be a shift towards all people being counted equally. Such discussion misses the more valid point that NPC deputies do not truly represent the people they claim to. The truth is, after all, that NPC deputies, elected by members of lower level congresses, serve as little more than a rubber stamp for the wishes of the party's leadership. The NPC's 2,987 deputies can discuss and vote on proposals, but have little real power. Changing the ratio of the rural to urban representation does not mean that citizens will have a greater say in how the nation is run.

Allowing a wider variety of candidates to stand, increasing competition for votes, and giving electors more information about what the candidates stand for, would all make the system more representative. Electoral reforms should move the mainland closer to that democratic goal.