Improving the Electoral System and Expanding the People’s Democracy

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-20 11:51
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Interview with Li Fei, Deputy Chief of the Commission of Legislative Affairs of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress

 

 The 11th National People's Congress (NPC) at its third session on March 14, 2010 adopted the Resolution on Amending the Law of the People's Republic of China on Election of Deputies to the National People's Congress and Local People's Congresses to be implemented on the day of its promulgation by an order signed by Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China. Qiushi Journal interviewed Li Fei, Deputy Chief of the Commission of Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee.

 Reporter: Could you please talk a little about the background and significance of the latest amendment of this law?

 Li: The electoral system is the basis for the people's congress system and this electoral law is important because it guarantees the right of Chinese citizens to elect deputies or be elected as a deputy in elections for the National People's Congress and local people's congresses in accordance with the law. This law was introduced first in 1953, amended in 1979 and then amended another four times for a total of five times. It was pointed out at the 17th National Party Congress that we must unswervingly promote socialist democratic politics, continuously expand the people's democracy, and safeguard the right of the people to be masters of the country. It called for continuously and gradually expanding democracy to ultimately realize election of the deputies to the people's congresses from urban and rural areas in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population. We have in recent years accumulated much experience in the election of new people's congresses following completion of the terms of the previous ones. But we also encounter some new situations and issues along the way which need to be addressed. Therefore, we need to amend this electoral law as needed based on what we have learned through experience.

 The electoral law has been amended this time following a principle of pursuing equality for all citizens, for all regions and for all ethnic groups taking into consideration the state of the country's economic and social development. Electing deputies to the people's congresses from urban and rural areas in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population is an important part of efforts to implement and improve the system of people's congresses and an important measure in the development of socialist democratic politics in China. It will guarantee that people in rural and urban areas enjoy equal voting rights and advance the cause of human rights in China. It is certain to encourage people in all sectors of society, ensure balanced urban-rural development and promote social harmony, making it a measure of profound historical significance.

  Deliberations on a draft amendment to the Election Law began March 8, 2010 at the Third Session of the 11th National People’s Congress. This amendment requires election of the deputies to the people’s congresses from urban and rural areas is in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population. This represents an important reform and improvement in China’s electoral system and means that urban and rural residents can look forward to the same voting right in elections. / Photo supplied by Xinhua

 Reporter: What were the guiding ideology and working principles followed this time in amending this electoral law?

 Li: The guiding ideology for the latest amendment was to take Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of Three Represents as a guide, apply the Scientific Outlook on Development and, in accordance with the requirements defined at the 17th National Party Congress, take into consideration lessons learned from experience, improve the electoral system, realize election of the deputies to the people's congresses from urban and rural areas in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population, better embody the ideal of equality among citizens, regions and ethnic groups, expand the people's democracy, ensure that the people are the masters of the country and provide a powerful institutional guarantee for the implementation and improvement of the system of the people's congress and continuous development of socialist democratic politics.

 The principles guiding the work of amending the law were: First, we adhered to a correct orientation in expanding democracy. We must always maintain the correct orientation in politics by closely integrating Party leadership, the people as masters of the country and the rule of law, sticking to the road of development of socialist politics with Chinese characteristics, and first of all taking into consideration conditions in the country. We must continue to improve the electoral system, keeping in mind that the people's democracy is the lifeline of socialism, and make elections of deputies to the people's congresses include more voters and more fair to ensure the status of the people as masters of the country. Second, we ordered our priorities in our work and gave due consideration to all factors in mapping out overall plans. In amending the law for electing deputies to people's congresses this time, we focused on ensuring that deputies to the people's congresses from urban and rural areas are in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population, a requirement introduced at the 17th National Party Congress; at the same time we made necessary changes to other aspects of the law. The amendment of this law marks improvement and development of the election system with Chinese characteristics and therefore represents progress and improvement in staying in line with economic and social development. Third, we approached the work with a positive and prudent attitude and handled issues on a category-by-category basis. We carefully studied issues that frequently cropped up in the course of implementing the law and made appropriate and specific changes where conditions were ripe based on consensus, temporarily putting aside for further study those issues for which conditions for their solution were not yet ripe.

 Reporter: It has been more than two years since it was proposed at the 17th National Party Congress to gradually adjust the ratio of deputies to the people's congresses so that the deputies from urban and rural areas are in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population, but the amended law calls for accomplishing this "in one stroke." Could you tell what the considerations were behind this?

 Li: When we adopted the first electoral law for deputies to people's congresses, only 13.26% of the country’s population lived in the cities. By 1979 when the law was first amended, the urban population rose to 18.96%. Economic and social development has picked up speed and urbanization has been making steady progress since we initiated the reform and opening up policy and, particularly since 1995, the pace of industrialization and urbanization have both been gathering speed, the economies and cultural programs in rural areas have greatly improved and the social structure has undergone profound changes. The urban-rural population ratio has risen from 29:71 in 1995 to 46:54 in 2008. During this period we accumulated much experience in the election of deputies to people's congresses at all levels and have had great success in promoting socialist democratic politics and developing the legal system. The objective conditions have become ripe for introducing the practice of electing deputies to the people's congresses from urban and rural areas in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population by amending the corresponding electoral law.

 At the 17th National Party Congress it was proposed that election of deputies to the people's congresses be gradually changed until deputies to the people's congresses from urban and rural areas are in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population. This decision met with universal approval and was vigorously implemented. On the basis of thorough investigation and extensive surveys, the legislative body produced an amendment proposal calling for a one-step change so that deputies to the people's congresses would be elected from urban and rural areas in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population. It was pointed out that the conditions for realizing this change were already ripe and that this change would facilitate the initiative of the election work and better guarantee the equal rights to vote for deputies to the people's congresses for both the urban and rural citizens. This move expanded the people's democracy, helped ensure balanced urban-rural development and promoted social harmony. It was thus of great significance in meeting the requirements put forth at the 17th National Party Congress.

 Reporter: What principles are to be followed to ensure deputies to the people's congresses from urban and rural areas are in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population?

 Li: In order to ensure that deputies are elected to the people's congresses from urban and rural areas in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population, taking into consideration the state system and political system of this country, the amended law should reflect the following principles and requirements: One, the ratio of deputies from urban and rural areas should be the same as the ratio of deputies to the represented population to ensure equality for all citizens in terms of voting rights. Two, all localities should have equal rights to participate in the institutions of state power. All administrative regions, irrespective of the size of the population, should have the same basic quota and elect a certain number of deputies to ensure equality among all regions. Three, all ethnic groups should have an appropriate number of deputies, and even the smallest of ethnic groups, irrespective of the size of their population, should have at least one deputy to the people’s congress to ensure equality among ethnic groups. Equality in these three areas reflects an inherent requirement of the state system and political system of the country, which is a unified entity and should therefore be fully and strictly implemented in the election of people’s congresses without overemphasis or neglect of any aspect or quarter.

 Reporter: What changes would result in the composition of the deputies to the people's congresses when this principle of ensuring deputies are elected to the people's congresses from urban and rural areas in the same ratio of deputies to the represented population is put into operation?

 Li: The introduction of this principle will help to make the people's congresses more inclusive and representative and improve the composition and quality of the deputies. Deputies to the people's congresses at the level of cities that are divided into districts, autonomous prefectures and higher will be elected indirectly, with both urban and rural areas adopting the same ratio of a deputy to his/her represented population. In addition, an appropriate number of deputies will be selected from each region, ethnic group and sector of society to realize a more appropriate composition of deputies. The deputies to people's congresses of townships, towns, districts and counties will be elected directly by voters, with the number of deputies elected according to the quota for each precinct. The election of deputies to the people's congresses is carried out, according to the principle of the same deputy-population ratio for both urban and rural areas, by constituency determined by the population distribution of towns and villages in the same administrative district. A deputy in all constituencies of a locality will represent roughly the same number of population, with the number of deputies from the rural districts appropriately increased. The vocational structure of the rural population has undergone marked changes due to economic and social development, so deputies from the rural constituencies are no longer limited to the farming population and now include a much broader range of people. An appropriate increase in the number of deputies from the rural constituencies also enables an increase in the number of deputies from among the general public, including rural residents, which will help improve the composition of deputies to the people's congresses.

 Reporter: Why are candidates required to divulge certain personal information and why is a citizen not permitted to be a congressional deputy in two different localities?

 Li: As the country has opened wider to the outside world, an increasing number of Chinese nationals have become permanent residents or citizens of foreign countries. In view of this situation, a person accepting recommendation as a candidate is now required to declare their true identity and submit a personal resume outlining their basic situation to the election committee or the congress presidium. If there are inaccuracies in the basic information provided, the agencies in charge of organizing election will inform the voters or voter representative of the findings of the investigation. In accordance with the principle of equality of voting rights, the current amendment provides a clear answer to the question of whether or not a citizen is qualified to simultaneously serve as a deputy to two people's congresses in different localities. The latest amendment clearly states that a citizen shall not simultaneously serve in two or more people's congresses that are not affiliated.

 Reporter: What has been done in the latest amendment to help voters learn more about the candidates?

 Li: A common complaint from some localities and voters, particularly at the local level, was that the information on candidates was too basic, limited to personal information, political affiliation and education level. They complain that the information was too superficial and discouraged them from voting for candidates. They suggest that there should be more organized meetings between voters and candidates to help voters better understand candidates. For this reason, the amended law provides that election organizers must arrange for candidates to meet voters and answer their questions face-to-face and that they must publish a list of the candidates and information concerning candidates a week prior to the polling day instead of five days as previously required to give voters more time to consider the candidates.

 Reporter: What provisions have been made to standardize the setting up of polling places, the convening of election meetings and the use of mobile ballot boxes?

 Li: The most important link in organizing direct elections is making it convenient for voters to vote. This electoral law provides that voting may be done in one of three ways: at a polling place, through a mobile ballot boxes and at an election meeting. Some local voters have complained about the lack of standardization of polling places because some polling places are too close together and some are too far, making it inconvenient for voters. Sometimes mobile ballot boxes have been employed unnecessarily extensively. In order to standardize the setting up of polling places and the convening of election meetings and improve the management of ballot boxes, the amended law provides that election committees must set up polling places at distances determined according to the concentration of the precinct population and for the convenience of voters, that election meetings may be convened for compact communities of voters and that mobile ballot boxes shall be provided to facilitate handicapped or sick voters or voters residing where it is inconvenient to come to polling places to vote because of poor transportation infrastructure. Mobile ballot boxes therefore may only be provided under certain specific conditions.

 Reporter: What has been provided in the amended law concerning government agencies responsible for investigating and dealing with election malpractices?

 Li: Some members of the NPC Standing Committee and some local people's congresses proposed to make clearer definitions of the organization and responsibilities of agencies in charge of investigating election malpractices such as violence, threats and bribery. For this reason, the amended law now has a provision requiring agencies in charge of organizing elections to promptly carry out investigations and take proper measures when election malpractices are discovered or reported and requiring them to turn over such cases to the concerned government organ where criminal prosecution is warranted.

 Reporter: How does the amended law ensure the voting rights of rural migrant workers and others in the floating population?

 Li: Some departments and localities have expressed the opinion that the amended law should have clear provisions concerning participation of the floating population, which mainly consists of migrant rural workers, in the direct elections at the township and county level in places where they work. A thorough investigative study was carried out, which found that conditions in China are not yet ripe to formulate a provision that applies to all areas of the country. The amended law has no specific provisions on this issue, so rural migrant workers and others in the floating population must take part in the direct elections at the local level in accordance with the specific regulations of the NPC Standing Committee, which requires that the floating population in principle must return to their registered permanent residences to vote. Specifically: (1) Voters temporarily working or living away from their home townships or towns may return to their home townships or towns to vote where conditions permit. (2) Voters who are unable to return to their registered permanent residences to vote may entrust their relatives or other persons in writing to vote on their behalf upon the approval of the local election committee. (3) Voters who have already moved away from their home towns or villages to reside in another locality but have not completed the transfer of their residence registration may take part in the election in their current place of residence, provided they have obtained official recognition of their right to vote from the election committee of their original residence area. The election committees of the provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government may have the right to determine how to actually implement these provisions in the light of local conditions. We believe these measures will guarantee the right of rural migrant workers and others in the floating population to vote and to be voted under the present conditions.

(From Qiushi, Chinese edition, No.16, 2010)


Note: Interview conducted by Yang Shaohua and Yi Saijian, reporters of Qiushi Journal 

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