China's parliament abolishes Presidential terms limits; Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely

Framed portraits of German philosopher Karl Marx Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin and China’s late leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping hang above a screen showing President Xi Jinping

China's legislature voted nearly unanimously on Sunday in favour of changing the country's constitution to remove presidential and vice-presidential term limits, formally allowing Xi Jinping to stay on as head of state beyond 2023.

The constitutional amendment, the first since 2004, brings the state into line with the charters of the Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army, which do not set term limits for their leaders.

The endorsement came as no surprise, given the Communist Party's iron grip on the legislature.

Vice President Li Yuanchao is not expected to stay on in his role.

China has approved constitutional changes that will lift the restrictions on presidential term limits. The amendment vote required a two-thirds majority to pass.

"Everyone expects that this will make Xi Jinping a stronger, more decisive leader, but it's also possible that he will need to justify this change by maintaining his popularity", said Mary Gallagher, director of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of MI.

The move would make Xi the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, who died in 1976. But Cary Huang, a columnist with the South China Morning Post, warns that Xi has expanded his crackdown to include political dissent, citing a "broader crusade to root out anyone disloyal or who fails to comply with his orders".

The concentration of power in Xi's hands "means that China could return to the era of Chairman Mao, when the Great Helmsman, who had no term limits, ruled by diktat", wrote Willy Lam, a senior fellow at US think tank Jamestown Foundation and an adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in an online commentary last week. The party's official People's Daily has said this does not mean life-long terms. The reality is that constitutional amendments adopted at that meeting do not even allude to economic reforms, but it seems clear, given its draft, that y could have an indirect impact on m. The Chinese president was due to step down in 2023.

The government has said lifting the term limits is about protecting the authority of the party with Xi at its centre.

Shen cited Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, as saying that leading officials should uphold rule of law, oppose rule of man, hold in awe of the Constitution, and exercise their duty within the boundaries of the Constitution and laws, when joining a panel discussion with NPC deputies from Chongqing.

In a further measure of Xi's strength, a key Xi ally, former top graft-buster Wang Qishan, could be elected vice president on Saturday, having stepped down from the Standing Committee in October.

This will allow Xi Jinping to continue as president indefinitely.

Some Chinese have quietly expressed disappointment that the constitutional amendment was passed on short notice without proper public debate.

"The people's government must never forget the word the "people" and we must do everything we can to serve the people, but to get all the government officials to do this is not easy, in some places this is not done very well and in other places it is done very badly", Xi told AFP. "And he's great. I think it's great".

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