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Law change to strengthen democracy
By Meng Yan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-17 01:30

China's top legislative body is considering changes to the electoral law to strengthen democracy.

A draft amendment to the law will be presented to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) when it starts its bimonthly session next Monday.

The law, adopted in 1979, covers elections to all levels of legislative bodies -- from the NPC to grassroots bodies -- and has been amended in 1982, 1986 and 1995.

"Progress in the gradual reform of the electoral system will bring a brighter future for democracy," said Huang Weiping, director of the Institute of Contemporary Chinese Politics Research at Shenzhen University.

Huang said electoral practice is the driving force behind the improvements to the electoral system.

NPC deputies and deputies to the people's congresses of provinces, municipalities directly under the central government and cities divided into districts are elected by the people's congresses at the next lower level, according to the law.

While deputies to the people's congresses of counties, cities not divided into districts, municipal districts, townships, minority townships, and towns are elected directly by their constituencies.

The law says candidates could be nominated by political parties or organizations or they could be nominated by groups of 10 or more voters.

"With increasing legal awareness, more and more people have resorted to the law to safeguard their rights including their political rights," Huang said.

He said the democratic process is getting increasingly vibrant in recent years, especially with the participation of self-nominated candidates in Beijing's district people's congress elections.

A dozen of college students and professionals including lawyers, scholars and consumer rights advocators participated in the grassroots election of the capital city in December.

They qualified themselves by collecting nominations from over 10 voters.

"I hope my participation in the election will help enhance democratic awareness among intellectuals and help make elections more competitive," said Xu Zhiyong, a 30-year-old lecturer at the Law Department of the School of Humanity Law and Economics at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, whose electoral bid proved successful.

Xu is now a deputy to the Haidian District People's Congress in Beijing.

Similar cases could be found in the grassroots elections in Shenzhen of South China's Guangdong Province and Central China's Hubei Province and Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

Wang Liang, headmaster of the Shenzhen Advanced Vocational School, beat three other Party-nominated opponents in the grass-roots legislature election in May last year, becoming the first candidate in Shenzhen to win an election without being nominated by any party or organization.

However, not all self-nominated candidates manage to get their names on the ballot papers.

The law says the list of candidates in direct election is finalized through discussion by the electoral committee.

Huang said the law does not offer specific rules for such a discussion nor the solution when the electoral committee cannot reach a consensus.

He suggested the lawmakers introduce preliminary elections into the whole process.

At the same time, he said, the lawmakers should consider raising the threshold of self-nomination to reduce election costs.

Huang said the new amendment should reflect the progress of the reform in the electoral system.

Members of the NPC Standing Committee will also review the draft law on supervision during the five-and-a-half-day meeting.

Legislators will review draft amendments to the laws on highways, corporations, securities, commercial instruments, auctions, wildlife conservation, fisheries and crop seeds as well as the regulation on academic degrees.

The draft amendments will cancel or change those clauses inconsistent with the Law on Administrative Licensing which took effect on July 1.

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