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China to close gap between urban and rural in congress

Parliamentary representation for countryside dwellers to rise

BEIJING – China will increase rural representation in its parliament, according to draft legislation unveiled Monday amid concern over a widening gap between its countryside and cities.

The move appeared to be a response to growing calls for the government to address a worsening rural-urban wealth divide that has seen the vast countryside largely left behind in China’s economic boom.

The amendment to the election law of the national people’s congress (NPC) would foster “equality” among the nation’s constituencies, Wang Zhaoguo, a top legislative official, said in a speech to the Communist Party-controlled body.

Wang said rural delegates now represent four times as many citizens as their urban counterparts, which effectively gives urban areas greater representation.

The amendment would equalise those ratios, he added.

“The number of deputies to the National People’s Congress shall be allocated ... in accordance with the principle that each deputy represents the same number of urban and rural people,” Wang said.

It was unclear what sort of actual political impact the shift could have. The NPC is widely viewed as a mere rubber stamp for the ruling party’s directives.

However, some observers say dissenting voices do get heard – behind closed doors – in shaping legislation.

Wang gave no other figures on the current composition of the NPC. About 2,900 delegates are attending the current session, which opened Friday and ends on March 14.

According to Wang, it would be the first change to the rules since 1995. NPC delegates are elected by provincial assemblies.

The divide between China’s massive yet poor countryside of 900 million farmers, and its booming cities have leapt to the top of the national agenda.

Government figures showed the urban-rural income ratio grew last year to 3.33 to 1 in 2009, which state media reports called the widest since the nation launched its capitalist economic transformation three decades ago.

The government has indicated mounting concern over the possibility of widespread unrest involving marginalised citizens. AFP

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