Chinese parliament passes constitutional amendment to allow Xi Jinping to remain president indefinitely

China's parliament has passed a constitutional amendment removing presidential term limits, allowing Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely.

The 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.

The vote passed on Sunday with two "no" votes, three abstentions and one invalidated vote among nearly 3,000 delegates.

The 64-year-old leader began his second five-year term as party chief in October and his tenure was due to expire in 2020.

The limit of two five-year presidential terms was written into China's constitution after Mao Zedong's death in 1976. The system was enacted 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 center.

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 anti-corruption department.

The slide toward one-man rule under Xi has fueled concern that Beijing is eroding efforts to guard against the excesses of autocratic leadership and make economic regulation more stable and predictable.

In the run-up to Sunday's 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.

"This marks the biggest regression in China's legal system since the reform and opening-up era of the 1980s," said Zhang Lifan, an independent Beijing-based political commentator. "It is rare nowadays to see a country with a constitution that emphasizes the constitutional position of any one political party," said Zhang.

But the head of the legislature's legal affairs committee, Shen Chunyao, dismissed such concerns as "speculation that is ungrounded and without basis." Shen told reporters the party has accumulated extensive experience over its 90-year history that has led to a system of orderly succession to "maintain the vitality and long-term stability of the party and the people." "We believe in the future that we will continue with this path and discover an even brighter future," Shen said.

Party loyalists who attended the annual session of congress said the decision was popular with ordinary Chinese people and asserted that China was lucky to have a leader of Xi's caliber.

The party's official People's Daily has said this does not mean life-long terms.

In a sign of the issue's sensitivity, government censors have aggressively scrubbed social media of expressions ranging from "I disagree" to "Xi Zedong."

While some scholars questioned the wisdom of the move, others said they saw value in sending the message that Xi would be setting policy for many years to come. "In fact, the more Xi Jinping's position is consolidated and the longer his governing time is to last, the more secure it is for the continuity of the policies," said Liu Jiangyong, a professor at Renmin University's School of International Relations.

The move is widely seen as the culmination of Xi's efforts since being appointed leader of the party in 2012 to concentrate power in his own hands. Xi has been appointed to head bodies that oversee national security, finance, economic reform and other major initiatives.

It has crushed faint hopes for political reforms among China's embattled liberal scholars and activists. China allows no political opposition in any form. Leading Chinese officials have meanwhile repeatedly rejected any chance of adopting Western-style separation of powers or multiparty democracy.

To be sure, Xi's confident, populist leadership style and tough attitude toward official corruption have won him a significant degree of popular support.

Zhao Minglin, 32, a vice president of an investment firm in Beijing, said it was easier for Xi to carry out his ambitious vision of raising living standards in China if more power were concentrated in his hands.

"I will definitely support this constitutional amendment and this government. This is a powerful and strong government," Zhao said. He added, however, that he was concerned that the public discourse lacked a space for dissenting voices.

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