Firmly in the saddle to begin his second term with immense powers at this week’s key Congress of the ruling Communist Party, Chinese President Xi Jinping may set his sight for unprecedented third term, observers say. The once-in-a-five-year Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which will begin here from October 18, was expected to confirm the second five-year term of Xi in line with the convention of two terms for the top leaders, followed by the party since 2002, after which they retire.
During the 18th Congress, which was held around the same time five years ago, the then President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao had overseen an orderly transfer of power adhering to the conventional two terms and handed over the power to Xi, who was then the Vice President. Till then Xi, 64, a princeling as his father was former Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun, rose steadily in the party ranks maintaining a low profile.
He was first elected as the General Secretary of the CPC during the 18th Congress and President of the country, later firmed up his power base after the outgoing leader Hu handed over the coveted position of head of the military to Xi. Starting his tenure with three powerful posts, Xi consolidated his position using the massive anti-corruption campaign against high ranking as well as middle and lower rung officials and top leaders. Over 1.34 officials have been punished in the anti-graft campaign.
Such was the consolidation of power of Xi specially enhancing his powers in the military that Premier Li Keqiang, 62 and other leaders who were elected along with him in 2012, took a backseat toning down their profile in public, observers say. It is perhaps for the first time in 15 years, a Chinese leader will begin his second term after in power for five years, heading the three power centres.
Hu was made the head of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the overall command of the 2.3 million strong world’s largest Chinese military midway through his first terms, where Xi virtually started his first tenure with it, which enabled him to clean-up the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), purging over 40 top Generals and punished 13,000 other personnel in the anti-graft campaign.
As the Party is set to begin its 19th Congress on Wednesday, all eyes are on whether Xi will follow another widely followed convention of the party to groom a successor.
While the Congress is expected to further reinforce power base of Xi, who has already been named by the party as a “core leader” like party founder Mao Zedong and his successor Deng Xiaoping, observers say it is to be seen whether he will break the convention and pave the way for his third term. For that the attention of Beijing-based diplomats and foreign media was on Wang Qishan, the 69-year-old close confidant of Xi who ruthlessly carried out the anti-graft campaign.
As per the convention of the retirement age limit of 68 set for the CPC officials, Wang should retire as he already surpassed it. But it is to be seen whether he will continue for another term which will in turn pave the way for Xi in the 20th Congress to continue in power as he too will cross retirement age by that time. Or he could continue to be in power heading the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) after 2022 by handing over post of general secretary and presidency to the next generation leaders. Also, the national and international attention will be on who the party is going to pick for the seven member Standing Committee which literally rules the country and whether there will be a hint for a successor.
Currently, Xi is the only civilian in the 11-member CMC Xi was nominated to the committee during the second term of his predecessor, Hu. Observers say the hints to be watched in the 19th Congress will be whether any of the party leaders will be projected to be inducted into the CMC.