Chinese legislative authorities have proposed reforming the electoral law governing the allocation of seats in local and national legislative bodies in an effort to redress discrimination against rural residents, according to a spokesman of the standing committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) quoted in a March 4 Xinhua article (English, Chinese).
The PRC Election Law for National and Local People's Congresses establishes a 4:1 urban-rural ratio in electoral representation for national and provincial-level legislative bodies. Rural legislative deputies to national and provincial bodies consequently represent four times as many constituents as their urban counterparts, leaving migrant and rural interests underrepresented. [For more analysis, see this post from Don Clarke's China Law Prof Blog]. This reflects a broader pattern of institutional discrimination against migrant and rural residents on the basis of their hukou (household registration) status. [For more analysis, see this topic paper (English, Chinese) of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.]
NPC spokesman Jiang Enzhu noted China's increasing urbanization created a need to amend the electoral law in order to gradually ensure equal representation for urban and rural residents. He stated that the NPC standing committee had proposed that the reforms be included in the NPC legislative plan for 2008. However, he noted that "it
is up to the 11th NPC Standing Committee, to be elected at the upcoming
session, to make final decision" as to whether to include such reforms.
Chinese authorities appear to be taking steps aimed at ensuring a greater degree of migrant and rural representation in Chinese legislative bodies. The NPC proposal for reform of the electoral law follows a call in Hu Jintao's October 2007 work report to the 17th Party Congress that "both urban and rural areas gradually
adopt the same ratio of deputies to the represented population in
elections of deputies to people's congresses." Local Chinese legislative bodies have also taken steps to seat token delegations of migrant workers, as noted in a January 16 Xinhua article.
It is uncertain how significant the reform proposals will be. Other hukou reforms have bogged down in the face of local government resistance. And in some cases, reform pronouncements may run somewhat ahead of their content. Xinhua announced on January 28 that "three rural migrant workers" had entered the NPC as the "first batch of 'spokespersons' for 200 million migrant workers." Only when one scrolls down do you find that a) there are a total of 2,987 NPC delegates and b) the three rural migrant workers consist of a "vice chairwoman for the trade union of a noted Shanghai-based fashion company," a "deputy workshop director in a computer company," and a "deputy workshop chief" for a "building ceramics company."