China’s parliament on Sunday amended the constitution to remove the limit on presidential terms. The amendment will allow President Xi Jinping, 64, who is seen as the most powerful Chinese leader in the post-Mao Zedong era, to keep power indefinitely.
The support to strike down the two term-limit was nearly unanimous.
The 13th National People’s Congress (NPC), the national legislature, has a strength of 2,980 deputies. A total of 2,964 votes were cast in favour of the amendment while only two were against. Three members abstained from voting while one vote was invalid. The ballot was secret and those who cast the dissenting votes were not identified.
A constitutional change requires the approval of two-thirds or more of NPC deputies during the annual session.
Xi, who assumed office in March 2013 and began his second term in October 2017, received over 99.89 per cent of the total votes. Without the amendment Xi’s two term presidency would have ended in 2023.
The two-term limit for presidents had been enshrined in the Chinese Constitution in 1982 to ensure leaders do not occupy the top post indefinitely.
The Communist Party of China’s Central Committee had last month proposed to remove the limit on the terms of the President and Vice-President that prevented them from serving “no more than two consecutive terms”.
There had been consternation internationally and some muted criticism within China that Xi’s indefinite rule could push China towards one-man dictatorship.
The Chinese government rejected the apprehensions saying the amendment had the people’s support.
“This amendment when it was brought in was applauded twice by the members. Without political support and support of society this would not have happened. There is no problem with this amendment,” said 12th NPC Standing Committee’s Commission for Legislative Affairs Chairman Shen Chunyao.
The NPC cleared 21 other constitutional amendments including incorporating Xi’s political theory “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” into the country’s Constitution.
This was the first amendment to the country’s fundamental law in 14 years.
The current version of the Constitution was adopted during the 5th National People’s Congress on December 4, 1982.