China’s parliament on Sunday almost unanimously passed a series of constitutional amendments, including one that removes presidential term limits, allowing President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely.
The announcement of the vote, witnessed by reporters in the Great Hall of the People, passed with two “no” votes and three abstentions among almost 3,000 delegates.
China’s ruling Communist Party proposed the amendment last month and there was never any doubt it would pass as parliament is packed with loyal party members who would not have opposed the proposal.
In the run up to the vote, critics on social media attacked the move and drew parallels to North Korea or suggested a Mao Zedong-type cult of personality was forming. But the government quickly mounted a propaganda push, blocking some articles and publishing pieces praising the party.
The party loyalists who attend the annual session of parliament have said the decision is popular with ordinary Chinese people and asserted that China was lucky to have a leader of President Xi’s caliber.
Xi began his second five-year term as party chief in October and at the end of the week will be formally appointed by parliament.
The limit of two five-year presidential terms was written into China’s constitution after Mao’s death in 1976 by Deng Xiaoping, who recognized the dangers of one-man rule and the cult of personality and instead espoused collective leadership.
The government has said lifting the term limits is about protecting the authority of the party with Xi at its centre. The party’s official People’s Daily has said this does not mean life-long terms.
The party gave Xi the title of “core” leader in 2016, a significant strengthening of his position at the time.
While the presidency is important, Xi’s positions as head of the party and head of the military are considered more important, and these titles are always given first by state media. With the passage of the amendment, now none of the posts have formal term limits.
The amendments also include inserting Xi’s political theory into the constitution, something that was already done for the party constitution in October, and clauses to give a legal framework to a new super anti-corruption department.