On Sunday, 11 March, China’s annual sitting of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People voted in favour of a controversial constitutional change that effectively allows Xi Jinping to remain president for life.
2,958 delegates voted to abolish a two-term limit that was imposed on the president in 1982. Two voted against and three abstained. The purpose of the limit was to stop another dictator from gaining power and this historic vote marks a potential return of the Maoist style of leadership in China. Indeed, Xi is considered China’s most powerful leader since Mao and the result of this vote is a clear demonstration of his dominance.
“The great dream of national rejuvenation encourages us to keep striving; the great era inspires us to forge ahead,” said the parliament’s chairman Zhang Dejiang after the vote.
“Let us hold high the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, thoroughly study and apply Xi Jinping Thought … and realise the Chinese Dream.”
Although this decision puts an end to a collective leadership effective in China under ex-President Hu Jintao, a great majority of Chinese citizens perceive the result of the vote as an expression of Chinese democracy and a beginning of a renaissance of their nation. State media and Xi’s supporters stress his success in combating corruption and pollution, as well as in strengthening Chinese economy. On the other hand, rare dissenters point out the lack of democratic freedoms in China and an increase in state surveillance and censorship. “This could destroy China and the Chinese people,” warned Li Datong, a retired state newspaper editor in an open letter.
Two other amendments were also approved through the same vote: the above mentioned “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” is now an official political philosophy included in the constitution. It is to be taught at all schools and universities, furthering the impression that voicing a different opinion is not encouraged in China. The third amendment allows for the formation of the “supervisory commissions” with a task to investigate civil servants and party members.
Mr Xi became president in 2012, and this move shows his determination to cement his political power in China and put an end to factional politics that might endanger the party. The impact of this vote on China and the world is still hard to predict, but it is bound to be massive.