By Li Hong
The just-concluded Third Session of China's National People's Congress, the top legislature, overwhelmingly approved a key amendment to the Electoral Law, by legally binding equal voting rights between urban and rural balloters. The new law marks a milestone that lifts the political and social status of China's rural population, and is sure to bring about profound changes to farmers' lives in the coming years.
Many domestic and Western observers have hailed the law re-making as a huge progress by the most populous country to have overcome classic "class discrimination", some even claiming a period of "apartheid-like" division that demarcates the rural poor from the urban privileged is finally coming to an end.
Following the last revision 15 years ago done by the same NPC, the Electoral Law stipulated each rural deputy represented a population four times that of an urban deputy. And before that amendment in 1995, the difference was glaringly eight times. The fact that China's farmers had much less of the suffrage of their urban counterparts casts light to official diminishing of the agrarian and generally impoverished class by the power holders for too long a time.
Gleefully, the current leadership headed by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao saw a job overdue and made a daring and watershed decision to overhaul the system. Bravo for this central government! The revered late leader Mr. Deng Xiaoping once stated that only reforms could do away with systematic roadblocks and deliver continuous progress to China.
It is never easy to change the static, as the vested interests will be hurt and they often stand up in protest. In the U.S. Senate, President Obama's landmark medical care reform bill, aiming to extend coverage to 46 million uninsured and generally poor people, is facing fierce opposition from both the Republicans and some Democrats. Nevertheless, China's new electoral law, approved by 2,747 yes votes from 2,919 NPC deputies at the closing meeting on March 14, tells a fact that although dissent retained after a 10-day deliberation, law-makers would look to the vast public consensus outside the Great Hall of the People for guidance.
That is: putting public interests first and foremost, always.
China has been on a rapid rise since Mr. Deng kicked off the charismatic crusade of reform in 1978. Urbanization has gained pace since 1992 when Deng urged for remarkably bigger efforts to speed up construction in Shenzhen, a modern city near Hong Kong built from a fisher's village.
The proportion of urban population increased from 13 percent in 1950 to 46.6 percent at the end of 2009. As the well being of urbanities was drastically improved, the livelihood of rural folks has lagged far behind, be it state-funded medical care, the nest eggs for the retirees, or a say in national affairs. Though much of urban construction job is now done by the migrant rural workers, this huge group of people, at approximately 300 million, hardly enjoys the rights and benefits of the urbanities. The status quo is barely fair or just.
Premier Wen Jiabao has told the NPC that the government will try to promote fairness and justice among Chinese nationals, vowing to "letting all in China live a dignified life". He told the nation in a live telecasted news conference on March 14 that he will exert his utmost efforts to address the problem during the last three years of his tenure, because "fairness and justice shines much brighter than the sun". Wen also inspired the country's "future leaders" to continue to tackle the issue.
The revision of the electoral law will prove to be an inspirational move that will ushers in an age of fundamental change in the country's vast rural landscape. As rural deputies get a larger and weighty voice in the decision-making procedure, we are looking forward to elimination of more discriminative polices against the farmers and migrant workers, and the rural regions will have more access to the national fiscal budget.
Is China turning away from reforms, as alleged by some Western observers? No! But it will be accepted as an awakening note for us.
The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.