[JURIST] The Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) [official website, in Chinese] on Sunday approved an amendment to the electoral law mandating equal representation for rural and urban citizens. The electoral reform was adopted [Xinhua report] at the close of the Third Session [official website, in Chinese] of the Eleventh National People's Congress and was hailed [People's Daily report] by the People's Daily, a publication of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China [official websites], as having a "great significance to the improvement of the people's congress system and the development of the socialist democracy, as it could better demonstrate equality among people, regions and ethnic groups." The electoral reform also bans family members of candidates from acting as ballot counters and has been described as key to equal rights [Xinhua reports] by government officials. The NPC on Sunday also approved the Government Work Report [text], which predicts an 8 percent increase in GDP for 2010, along with the 2010 budget, including a 7.5 percent increase in defense spending over last year, and the work reports of the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate [official websites, in Chinese].
The electoral reforms were first proposed [JURIST report] at the start of the annual session last Monday. China's prior electoral law provided four times as many congressional representatives to residents of urban districts than residents of rural ones. This ratio was an improvement over the previous one that had been in place since 1953, which provided eight times as many representatives [PTI report] for urban districts over rural ones. Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee Wang Zhaoguo [People's Daily profile, in Chinese] explained [text] the need for the reform at the beginning of the session by pointing to the growth of the Chinese urban population since the last reform, which has grown from 13 percent in 1953 to nearly 30 percent in 1995, and in 2009 was nearing 50 percent. Despite reforms, China continues to face international criticism over human rights issues. China's human rights record was criticized in the US annual rights report for its repression of Tibetan and Uighur minorities, prompting Chinese criticism of the US rights record [JURIST reports] on issues of crime, racial discrimination, and poverty. China has also received criticism for its treatment of rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], who was last seen in public on February 4, 2009.