China has approved the removal of term limits for its leader, in a move that effectively allows Xi Jinping to remain as president for life.
The constitutional changes were passed by China’s annual sitting of the National People’s Congress on Sunday.
The vote was widely regarded as a rubber-stamping exercise. Two delegates voted against the change and three abstained, out of 2,964 votes.
China had imposed a two-term limit on its president since the 1990s.
But Mr Xi, who would have been due to step down in 2023, defied the tradition of presenting a potential successor during October’s Communist Party Congress.
Instead, he consolidated his political power as the party voted to enshrine his name and political ideology in the party’s constitution – elevating his status to the level of its founder, Chairman Mao.
On paper, the Congress is the most powerful legislative body in China – similar to the parliament in other nations. But it was widely believed that it would approve what it was told to.
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Political commentator Wu Qiang told the Financial Times (paywall) that the two opposition votes, having come from the strictly chosen delegates, were probably the result of “personal conscience.”
Term-limits were put in place in 1982 by former president Deng Xiaoping to ensure that China would have collective leadership, and avoid the devastation seen under the authoritarian rule of Mao Zedong. Deng believed that a two-term, 10-year limit would lead to stability and orderly transfers of power. A quarter of a century later, Xi—now China’s most powerful leader since Deng—has consolidated enough power to abolish this constraint.
More cynically, Xi may believe he must remain in power for self-protection. Xi has made a lot of enemies while in office. His anti-corruption campaign took down many powerful Chinese political figures. Xi’s enemies would almost certainly have a better chance of returning the favour by connecting him to a corruption scandal if he was no longer so powerful.