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December 24, 2009

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Villagers might get greater say

CHINESE legislators are considering giving rural people greater powers to remove village committee members and to convene their own meetings to decide village affairs.

The draft amendments to the Organic Law of Villagers' Committees, which affects 900 million rural people, is undergoing its first review at the National People's Congress Standing Committee, the top legislature.

Minister of Civil Affairs Li Xueju told lawmakers that with rural development, especially the deepening reform of household and taxation systems, new problems had emerged in village governance.

Li said it was imperative to amend the law that had been in effect since 1998.

The amendments focus on election and recall procedures of village committee members and democratic rules of procedure.

Lawmakers agreed the law had played an important role in promoting rural democratic elections, decision-making, management and supervision.

China has more than 2 million villages and 604,000 village committees.

Fierce campaigns

More than 95 percent of village committees held direct elections, and most had conducted more than seven elections since 1988 when the draft of the law was tested in some villages.

A Ministry of Civil Affairs report submitted to the top legislature said the competition in some village elections had become ever more fierce, and participants often made "enthusiastic campaign speeches."

But asking villagers to vote was difficult as many farmers left to work away from home and were reluctant to come back every three years for an election.

Even when some returned, the number of voters failed to meet the minimum legitimate turnout.

The draft amendments allow for villager representative meetings to be convened to decide village affairs in villages with big and scattered populations.

The draft amendments would also lower the threshold for removing village committee members.

The new draft law would require at least a fifth of the village electorate or at least a third of village representatives to sign a petition to remove committee members.


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