China's Parliament 'Votes' To Allow President to Rule Indefinitely

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xi-vote-03122018.jpg Chinese President and Communist Party chief Xi Jinping casts a vote on constitutional amendments in the National People's Congress in Beijing, March 11, 2018.

The vote by China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), to abolish any limits to President Xi Jinping's term in office over the weekend was entirely predictable, and has ushered in a new era of imperial-style rule, Chinese political analysts and commentators told RFA.

The real decision had already been made by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's central committee before the legislature convened on March 5.

"Revising part of the constitution is a major decision made by the ... Central Committee from the overall and strategic height of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era," state news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

Just two out of 2,964 NPC delegates voted against the constitutional amendments, while three abstained.

Hong Kong political commentator Liu Ruishao said the result of the vote had never been in doubt.

"The fact that Xi Jinping has been able to use his personal power to pass amendments to the constitution ... means that this one man holds the reins of the party, administration and the military," Liu said.

"The constitutional amendments also mean that Xi Jinping Thought is now inscribed in the national constitution, which means that he also controls the fourth power; that of ideology," he said.

"It's worthwhile to note that Xi Jinping wields an iron rule for the time being, but further opposition to his rule can't be ruled out in the case of major economic damage to China, or widespread popular discontent and rebellion," Liu said.

Many of those who commented on the president's new status since Sunday's vote were reluctant to be fully identified.

Reprisals for 'no' votes?

A Chinese academic who asked for anonymity said that there was never much chance of NPC delegates voting against the plan, given that reprisals were all too likely now, as they were in China's recent past under late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

"Back in the time of Mao Zedong, if there was so much as a single vote against [his proposal], they would find out who it was," the academic said.

He cited reprisals against Mao-era NPC delegates Zhang Heci and Liang Shuming who dared to vote against the Chairman.

"Leaders, from emperors to the strongman model we have now, always behave this way in a one-party dictatorship," the academic said. "It is basically a restoration of imperial rule. Under Mao Zedong, you had an imperial system of leadership."

A former journalist with China's tightly controlled media, who gave only his surname Sun, said many people in China are still in a state of shock at Xi's latest power grab.

"It is very clear that we are heading in the direction of lifelong leadership; a restoration of imperial rule," Sun said. "His power will definitely be consolidated now that he has abolished term-limits. He will be able to hire whomever he wants to do whatever he wants."

Xia Ming, a political science professor at the City University of New York, agreed.

"It is extremely risky for an NPC delegate to cast an opposing vote, because investigations into economic corruption are often linked to political investigations," Xia said. "I think the two people who cast the only opposing votes are heroes."

Staged votes against amendments

New York-based China scholar Xie Xuanjun said the two votes "against" the amendments were likely staged to give the effect that delegates had a choice, however.

"This would have been deliberately orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party, because if it was passed unanimously, it would look unrealistic," Xie said. "Those two votes were just a fig leaf to lend more credibility to the overall result."

Xia said many delegates would have been in favor of indefinite rule by Xi anyway.

"Indefinite rule by Xi Jinping is in their economic interests," he said. "They will take a share in the dividends of dictatorship."

A rights activist who gave only his surname Yu said he doesn't regard the vote as legitimate, because the general population wasn't consulted on the changes.

"Constitutional change should only take place with the agreement of the majority of citizens," Yu said. "If they can just change the constitution whenever they like without that agreement, then how is that different from having no constitution at all?"

But state-run media defended the changes, saying democratic forms of government don't suit China.

"We are increasingly confident that the key to China’s path lies in upholding strong party leadership and firmly following the leadership of the party central committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core," the Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid published by the Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said in an editorial on Monday.

"In these years we have seen the rise and decline of countries and particularly the harsh reality that the Western political system doesn’t apply to developing countries and produces dreadful results," it said.

A lawyer surnamed Chen said the opinions of ordinary Chinese officially count for nothing now.

"It's nothing less than a return to imperial rule, where a single person dictates everything, and nobody else is allowed an opinion," Chen said. "Actually, we weren't allowed one before, but now they're being very open about it."

"Xi Jinping has set up 12 different task forces since he took power, and the organs of party and state have crumbled," he said. "This started a while back ... I think democracy activists ... will pay an even heavier price in future."

Since Xi took the helm of the party in 2012, formally assuming the presidency in March 2013, authorities in China have stepped up nationwide "stability maintenance" measures targeting anyone with a critical opinion of the government and cracking down on civil society groups fighting discrimination and social injustice.

And in a move reminiscent of the Mao-era Anti-Rightist campaigns, more than 300 lawyers, law firm staff, rights activists and relatives have been detained, questioned, or placed under surveillance or other restrictions in a nationwide police operation targeting the legal profession launched in 2015.

Reported by Gao Shan, Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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