President Xi Jinping of China was originally scheduled to step down in 2023. But not anymore. He can now officially rule China for as long as he wants.
The new development came on Sunday afternoon when nearly 3,000 delegates to China’s ceremonial parliament cast their ballots in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to amend the nation’s constitution, thus paving the way for Xi to remain in power longer that he was originally allowed to.
The amendment came easy and fast. The parliament called the National People’s Congress, after all, hasn’t voted down a Communist Party decision in its 64-year history.
Two delegates stood their ground and voted against the amendment while three abstained, but still giving Xi an overwhelming 2,958 votes or a 99.8% approval rate.
An expert on Chinese politics, Willy Lam from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says the constitutional revision idea and full initiative came from Xi himself. It was then crucial for him to get a strong majority vote. Lam added: “So he needs that extremely high approval reading to show that this is not a selfish initiative- this is not him wanting to become an emperor for life, but this is the will of the people.”
Xi already holds three posts: general secretary of the Communist Party, chairman of the Central Military Commission and president of the nation. His presidential role is the only one that previously carried term limits. His predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, both stepped down after two five-year terms.
Xi, 64, became president in 2013. He has been quite fast in consolidating power. He has succeeded in punishing millions of officials in his extensive war on graft. He has eliminated rivals while shoring up public support. He has silenced or jailed scores of activists and intellectuals, effectively quashing dissent in the process. His party was able to control also all levels of the economy, society and military. Some have started referring to him as the “chairman of everything.”
Not everyone welcomed and cheered for the new development, however. Chinese students abroad, for instance, have displayed a rare show of dissent. They have strewn fliers on campuses showing a photo of Xi superimposed with the defiant words: “Not my president.”
Censors were quick, however, to block open discussion of the revisions on social media sites in China including Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Among the forbidden terms are “reelection”, “proclaiming oneself an emperor”, and “I don’t agree.” Even images of cartoon character Winnie the Pooh are banned, after many Chinese internet users posted before that the popular bear shares some resemblance to Xi’s features.
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