China’s parliament on Sunday passed a constitutional amendment that removes presidential term limits, giving Xi Jinping the right to remain in office indefinitely.
The National People’s Congress, as expected, voted overwhelmingly to scrap the limit of two five-year presidential terms, a move that will enable to Xi to rule China for as long as he wants.
As the nearly 3,000 hand-picked delegates cast their ballots, there were only two “no” votes and three abstentions, Reuters reports.
In the Great Hall of the People, Xi cast his vote first, placing a paper into a large red ballot box, followed by the other six members of the party’s elite Standing Committee.
Other delegates took their turn at ballot boxes placed around the room. The room erupted into loud applause when the result of the vote was passed.
With Xi now granted the right to hold the top post indefinitely, it confirms his status as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong died more than 40 years ago.
Speaking later to reporters, Shen Chunyao, chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC standing committee, dismissed concerns the move could risk a return to strongman rule or lead to political turmoil or infighting.
“As for the assumptions, conjecture and stretched situations in your question, I think that does not exist,” Reuters quoted Shen as saying.
“In the nearly 40 years of reform and opening up, we have successfully established, upheld and expanded the political development road of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Shen said. “So, going forward the road we are on will definitely be longer and wider, and the future brighter.”
The limit of two five-year presidential terms was written into China’s constitution in 1982 after Mao’s death six years earlier by Deng Xiaoping, who recognized the dangers of one-man rule and the cult of personality after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and instead espoused collective leadership.
In the run up to Sunday’s vote, critics on Chinese social media attacked the move and drew parallels to North Korea or suggested a Mao-type cult of personality was forming.
But the government quickly mounted a propaganda push, blocking some comments and publishing pieces praising the proposal.
The party loyalists who attend the annual session of parliament have said the decision is popular with ordinary Chinese people and asserted that China was lucky to have a leader of Xi’s caliber.
Xi, 64, swiftly consolidated power after taking over as party chief in late 2012.
He began his second five-year term as party chief in October and at the end of the week will be formally appointed by parliament to his second term as president.
The government has said lifting the term limits is about protecting the authority of the party with Xi at its center.
People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, has said this does not mean life-long terms.
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