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China: Electoral Reform

China’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress, has started discussion on a draft amendment to the Electoral Law, which will ensure voters in the countryside have as much influence as voters in the cities. The draft amendment tabled for first reading at the bimonthly legislative session of the 11th NPC Standing Committee last week, 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”.

Under existing law, each rural deputy represents a population four times than in urban areas. That means that one rural NPC deputy represents 960,000 rural people, while each urban NPC deputy represents 240,000 urban people. Legal scholars said the amendment reflects the transition of China’s urban and rural society. The current imbalance started in 1953 when the first Electoral Law was passed. At the time, rural population greatly outnumbered urban citizens. The rule was to ensure that urban deputies would not be greatly outnumbered.

While China’s state media carries headlines such as “China's rule by law boosted by equal political rights and equal life compensation in urban and rural areas” and “One step nearer equality”, netizens’ responses are more skeptical.

Netizens from nfdaily.cn question the credibility and limited public participation of elections in China:

1 # 网友 2009-10-28 10:18:40: 当某一权利仅仅是纸面权利,而不被坐实时,大家都不重视它就在所难免。而不重视的结果是,让这一权利更加流于形式. 这么多年在外面遇见很多黎民百姓,问过很多人,结果都和我一样从来不曾有用过一次选举权的事。一切还是务实点好。许多空话对百姓又有什么意义。

While a right merely exists on paper but not in practice, people will not attach importance to it. The result is that this right will only become a formality. These years, I’ve asked a lot of people. Many, me included, simply haven’t ever exercised the right to vote. Be more pragmatic. These are just empty words to common people.

6 # 网友 2009-10-29 23:47:33: 选举制度无论怎样改,内定人选早就安排好了

No matter how you reform it, the preferred candidates are arranged in advance.

Earlier in September, a Southern Metropolitan Weekend article on the reform attracted similar comments:

Mameng 2009-09-17: 其实现在就算这四分之一的选举权都没有充分的给农民行使啊.很多农民这一辈子都没亲眼见过“人大代表”为何方神圣

In fact, farmers didn’t even have the chance to exercise their “one quarter” election right in the past. Many simply haven’t seen an NPC delegate in their lifetime.

One also questions the need for adjustment based on the urban/rural population ratio in the first place:

foxhtj 2009-09-18: 如果构成人民的主体是农民,为什么人代会不能成为农民大会,何况是在没有农会的情况下,难道仅仅是因为按马教教义,工人阶级是统治阶级,高人一等?那又何必上山下乡呢

If farmers make up the bulk of the population, why couldn’t they form the bulk of the People’s Congress? Is it just because Marxism-Leninism stresses that the working class should be the ruling class? If so, what’s the need of the “Down to the Countryside” Movement?

Obviously, more far-reaching issues lie beyond the reform. 孫嘉業 of Hong Kong’s Mingpao provides an analysis:

不過,雖然近幾屆全國人大農村代表比例增加,但真正的農民代表人數與毛澤東時代相較卻不增反減。在3000多名代表中,真正的農民僅百名左右,很多農村人大代表是鄉鎮幹部。即使在毛澤東時代,農村選出的人大代表又能在多大程度上代表農民利益,頗成疑問。在國家工業化的進程中,農民的利益總是最先被犧牲掉的。

Although the proportion of rural delegates has increased recently, their absolute number has declined compared with the Mao’s era. Among the 3,000 NPC delegates, only around a hundred are real farmers. Many rural delegates are village officials. Even back in Mao’s era, the extent to which rural delegates represented farmers’ interest was also questionable. In the ongoing industrialization, the farmers are always the first to sacrifice.

真正增加農民在國家政治生活中的話語權,單靠增加農民選出的人大代表的數量是不足夠的。正如現今的工人代表亦未能充分代表工人利益一樣,要徹底改革人大代表産生方法,就應落實人民的選舉權和被選舉權,擴大選舉競爭性,打破身分職業的界限,做實地域代表制,如此,「幾分之一」的困擾,亦隨之化為無形。

To really increase farmers’ representation in national politics, it is not enough to increase the number of delegates elected by farmers. Similarly, workers’ rights in today’s China are not sufficiently reflected by workers’ representatives. To completely reform the formation of NPC delegates, China needs to implement people’s rights to elect and be elected, increase the competitiveness of elections, abolish restrictions based on occupation and identity, and ensure equitable geographical representation. If so, the debate on “fractional” voting rights would be solved.

2 comments

  • I would really love to imagine that people actually have a vote out there.

    • It is technically possible. But it involves a great deal of complications. You can do some research on Xu Zhiyong, Huang Songhai, Yao Lifa or Tian qizhuang for this matter. Those people tried to run for delegate election before. Some of them even won it. Xu Zhiyong won it for twice. Though his detention story was another matter.

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