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Rural Migrant Workers to Enter China's Top Legislature
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China's hundreds of millions of rural migrant workers will have their own representatives seated in the national parliament if a draft resolution on lawmaker election for next year's National People's Congress (NPC) is approved by legislators at the ongoing 10th NPC annual session.
The draft resolution on deputy election for the 11th NPC was submitted to lawmakers for deliberation on Thursday, stipulating that provinces and municipalities with a large population of rural migrant workers should have an NPC deputy quota for them.

"China's migrant laborer population has become larger and is growing into one of the mainstays of the country's working force. They should have a number of lawmakers to represent their rights and interests," said Sheng Huaren, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee when making an explanation on the draft resolution to about 3,000 legislators.

Sources with the NPC Standing Committee said in the current NPC or the previous terms, no deputy was elected as a migrant worker.

The draft resolution also proposed an increase of lawmakers from farmers and industrial workers, saying that the NPC deputy number from these groups is dropping in recent years.

"NPC deputies must have a wide representation which is a fundamental requirement of the NPC system and an aspect of the socialist democracy," Sheng said.

China has about 200 million migrant workers, of which more than 120 million work in cities and the remainder work in towns. Official figures show 13 million farmers will become migrant workers each year if China reaches the urbanization target of 56 percent.

Sun Heng, a migrant from central Henan Province, said the draft resolution is "good news" to migrant workers. Sun funded a band of migrant workers in Beijing in 2002, which performs exclusively for the migrant community. "Each social group should have its own representatives to voice their own say," said Sun, adding that the NPC, however, should define migrant worker candidates' qualification clearly.

"Only a clear definition can ensure deputies elected are real representatives of migrant workers. It's very important to us," Sun said.

He also worries about the feasibility of the election of migrant workers.

Where migrant workers can vote and be elected remains a problem, Sun said, as the farmers-turned-workers have no "hukou" or urban residence registration, which means they do not belong to a precinct in cities, nor are they willing to return to their rural hometown for an election because of travel expenses and troubles and the fear of losing jobs.

The national legislature's plan to give seats to migrant workers was applauded by some experts and current NPC deputies.

"It's a milestone of China's political and democratic development and marks a significant change of the country's election mechanism," Han Dayuan, an expert on the studies of the Constitution with the Renmin University of China, told Xinhua.
"The move means migrant workers, an indispensable contributor to urban development but usually disadvantaged without access to medicare, pension and other social securities, will finally have their mouthpieces in the highest legislature. This is conducive to the immediate, direct expression of their appeals in national legislation, which can better protect their rights and interests," said NPC deputy Peng Zhenqiu from Shanghai.

The lawmaker said migrant workers' wage arrears, their children's schooling and other issues are attracting more social attention on the marginalized social class though discrimination against them still remains.

According to the draft resolution, the election of the 11th NPC deputies should conclude by the end of next January.

(Xinhua News Agency March 8, 2007)

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