Sunday 23 September 2018

Xi cleared to be untouchable strongman for life in China

Chinese President Xi Jinping drops his ballot, during a vote on a constitutional amendment lifting presidential term limits, at the third plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Jason Lee
Chinese President Xi Jinping drops his ballot, during a vote on a constitutional amendment lifting presidential term limits, at the third plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Neil Connor and Christine Wei in Beijing

Xi Jinping has cleared the way to rule for life and set China on a more authoritarian course after the country's parliament voted overwhelmingly to abolish presidential term limits yesterday.

The move turns the clock back on decades of reform and reverses a system of "collective leadership" that was installed following the turmoil of Mao Tse-tung's one-man rule.

Almost 3,000 delegates of China's National People's Congress (NPC) backed the measure during a historic meeting inside Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

The Chinese president was among the first to vote, placing his orange ballot paper in a red box bearing the official seal of state at the centre of the stage. The deputies then left their seats to cast anonymous votes as jaunty music played during the 10-minute ritual.

The room erupted into loud applause when the result of the vote was passed with 2,958 in support. Two voted against, while three abstained and one ballot paper was spoiled, signifying almost total loyalty to Mr Xi's vision for strongman rule.

At least two-thirds of delegates were required to vote in favour of the constitutional changes to allow Mr Xi to rule beyond the end of his second term in 2023. Observers now believe the Chinese president is almost untouchable.

Military delegates arrive for the National People’s Congress in Beijing yesterday. Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/Getty
Military delegates arrive for the National People’s Congress in Beijing yesterday. Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/Getty

Andrew Nathan, a China expert at the University of Columbia, in the US, said Mr Xi has "locked up every possible source of power in the tripartite party, state, and military apparatus".

"I have no doubt, human nature being what it is, that there are many party elites who are jealous and disapproving of him, or who hate him, partly due to the anti-corruption campaign and partly due simply to his monopolising power in this way," he said.

"But they have been isolated, cowed, and silenced. Although it is hazardous to make predictions about China, I can see no sign of a brewing power struggle. Xi seems secure."

The ruling Communist Party says the move to scrap presidential limits has received widespread support from officials and ordinary people. China's tightly controlled media has presented it as a routine matter.

Delegates cast their votes during a plenary session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday. Photo: Andy Wong/ AP
Delegates cast their votes during a plenary session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday. Photo: Andy Wong/ AP

But the country's huge army of internet censors has been forced to mobilise to confront criticism on social media.

Authorities have also moved to silence critics who have expressed concern about a return to one-man rule in a nation that now ranks among the most powerful on Earth.

Roderick MacFarquhar, a former China correspondent at the 'Daily Telegraph' and a current China expert at Harvard University, said Mr Xi's power grab still relied on the support of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the long term.

"One bad adventure could lead to Xi being ousted," Prof MacFarquhar said. "The one group that Xi has to keep on side is the military."

The parliament also backed inserting Mr Xi's political theory into the constitution, a feat no other leader since Mao had managed while in office.

The party gave Mr Xi the title of "core" leader in 2016, a significant strengthening of his position at the time.

An emerging "cult of personality" has seen him being bestowed with a range of adulatory titles, and one local official recently likened him to a living Buddhist deity. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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