Xi Jinping 'Elected' China's President

2013-03-14
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Xi Jinping walks to his seat ahead of his election as China's new president in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 14, 2013.
AFP

Hand-picked delegates to China's National People's Congress (NPC) confirmed Xi Jinping as president on Thursday, amid widespread popular anger over pollution and corruption and calls for political change.

Xi, who is already general secretary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, assumed the posts of president and commander-in-chief of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) with only one vote against him out of the nearly 3,000 possible votes and just three abstentions.

Xi takes the helm in the wake of a high-profile political scandal surrounding former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, and while he has vowed to crack down on graft and official excess, he has warned the Party not to repeat the mistakes that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

Analysts said that Xi's administration shoulders a legacy from outgoing president Hu Jintao of popular anger over toxic smog, polluted drinking water, and hazardous foodstuffs, as well as the lawless behavior of the rich and powerful.

However, the leadership has rejected a chorus of calls from scholars and rights activists for a move towards genuine political change, giving it limited scope to achieve anything much, analysts said.

"If they don't begin democratic reforms, there really isn't anywhere left for them to go with this," said Chen Ping, founder of the Hong Kong-based Sun Weekly news magazine. "Unbridled power will eventually self-destruct."

"People are up in arms, because they have no way to live any more."

"There is unprecedented air pollution, as well as soil pollution ... and water pollution to a degree never seen before, while social morals have sunk to an all-time low," Chen said, drawing parallels with Party rule now and the end of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

"From the point of view of a ruling party, they are damned if they do reform and damned if they don't."

'Upholding one-party rule'

Earlier this week, Xi warned the People's Liberation Army (PLA) that they should draw lessons from the collapse of the communist regime in the former Soviet Union and remain loyal to the Party.

Xi's speech came as the newly appointed head of the parliamentary advisory body, Yu Zhengsheng, said China will never pursue Western-style political reforms.

"We can tell from the things he says that his guiding ideology is to uphold one-party rule," said Zhu Xinxin, a former editor at state-run Hebei provincial television.

"He has never made the slightest mention of any kind of constitutional politics; instead he is busy telling the military that they have to accept Party leadership."

"We are definitely heading left," Zhu said.

Hong Kong-based current affairs commentator Ching Cheong said recent talk by the incoming leadership of "systemic reforms" had little to do with a move to constitutional government.

"They've abolished [two government agencies], and they have been talking about doing that for nearly 30 years," Ching said.

"The abolition of the railways ministry was the end of the last bastion of the planned economy, and the rest of the reform talk is all thunder with no rain," he said.

"I can't see how it's going to have any effect. Under a single-party dictatorship, the government has got used to getting involved in everything."

'Election' excitement

Meanwhile, Chinese netizens poked fun at the "election" that confirmed Xi in power, with many tweeting variations on the sarcastic phrase: "I get so nervous and excited when I think about the NPC elections for president: who is going to be the winner?"

Zhu said the online satire was indicative of deeper issues, however, and was far from being mere entertainment.

"The fact that people are writing these sorts of things means that they no longer harbor any illusions about the Chinese Communist Party," he said.

"This sort of low-level resistance means that the Party's influence can't penetrate into the grassroots of society, which means that this power base has been eradicated," Zhu said.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.