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Law aims to ensure fair grassroots elections
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China is one step closer to outlining an improved law that will crackdown on vote-rigging in village elections, a civil affairs official said Sunday.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs has now completed its revision of the Organic Law of Village Committees, which clarifies a definition for all forms of vote-rigging and penalties for vote-lobbyers and bribe-receivers, said Wang Jinhua, deputy director of the department of basic governance and community of MCA.

The draft revision along with a draft revision on the Organic Law of Urban Residents Committees, which addresses similar issues concerning urban grassroots elections, have been submitted to the State Council for further revision, Wang told a press conference held at the Beijing International Media Center.

Both draft revisions will then be tabled for the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, after attaining approval from the State Council.

The current existing law on the villagers' committee organization, promulgated in 1998, makes no clear definition of vote-rigging, or the due penalties.

Surveys by the MCA put the proportion of vote-rigging among village elections at 1 percent to 3 percent, a figure Wang acknowledges as inaccurate.

"The ambiguity in defining vote-rigging has led to difficulties in our supervision," said Wang, adding it is difficult to obtain proof in the investigation of vote-rigging as villagers often decline to admit receiving bribes.

Promoted since the 1990s, village elections have been introduced to all 31 provinces and municipalities. By the end of last year, there were 611,234 village committees nationwide with more than 2.4 million committee members.

Wang said elections have gained wide interest from villagers, with more than 90 percent of villagers participating in their village elections.

Mo Jihong, a law professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the village election, through its decade-long practice, has not only raised awareness of democracy for China's rural population, but have also allowed villagers to participate in the democratic process.

"With regulation and proper guidance, this rural grassroots democracy can form a major backbone in facilitating China's ongoing democratization process," said Mo.

Wang also said the revised law would add new elements, which aim to ensure increased protection of voting rights and participation among migrant workers in grass-root elections.

Some regional policies and rules already clearly stipulate that village committees should notify their migrant populations prior to elections, and urban community committees should consult their migrant residents when discussing topics concerning their interests.

This year, Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, made it mandatory for migrant workers living more than half a year away in another community, to be eligible in joining their local community election.

"The revised law has taken experience from these good practice and aims to protect their voting rights," Wang said.

(China Daily August 4, 2008)

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