Saturday, July 21News That Matters

Xi Jinping Clear to Rule Indefinitely as China Scraps Presidential Term Limits


Chinese president Xi Jinping, center, at the third plenary session of the 13th National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday. The legislature voted to remove a 10-year presidential term limit, clearing Mr. Xi’s path toward lifetime rule.
Chinese president Xi Jinping, center, at the third plenary session of the 13th National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday. The legislature voted to remove a 10-year presidential term limit, clearing Mr. Xi’s path toward lifetime rule.
Photo:

roman pilipey/epa-efe/rex/shutte/EPA/Shutterstock
By

BEIJING—China’s legislature formally scrapped term limits on

Xi Jinping’s

presidency, clearing his path toward indefinite one-man rule.

Of the 2,964 delegates casting ballots the National People’s Congress voting Sunday, 2,958 voted to repeal a 10-year limit on presidential tenures, along with a series of other constitutional changes aimed at entrenching Mr. Xi and his Communist Party’s dominance over Chinese life. There were two dissents, three abstentions and one invalid vote, a congress official said.

Xi Jinping is arguably the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. What’s behind his rise and how long will he remain in power? Photo: Reuters

The vote stripped away a 35-year-old institutional check installed after the 1976 death of

Mao Zedong,

whose autocratic rule was marked by policy disasters and bloody power struggles.

Constitutional amendments require approval from at least two-thirds of congressional delegates.

The resounding outcome had appeared inevitable over the past week as a procession of delegates cheered Mr. Xi’s leadership and endorsed the amendments.

The change brings presidential tenures in line with Mr. Xi’s other posts of party chief and military-commission chairman—more powerful positions not subject to formal term limits. Officials and delegates say the goal is to strengthen constitutional safeguards for the party’s authority and “centralized, unified leadership” under Mr. Xi.

Some congressional delegates shrugged off concerns that Mr. Xi could now rule for life.

“Doesn’t Japan’s emperor rule for life?” asked

Chen Jinshi,

chairman of real-estate developer Zhongnan Group. “Doesn’t the Queen of England rule for life?” he said. “So why can’t our president rule for life?”

“As long as his health is good, what’s there to be worried about?” Mr. Chen said. “We are confident in him, completely confident in him.”

Other amendments approved Sunday include the addition of a reference to Mr. Xi’s signature political theory, a clause affirming the Communist Party’s leading role in governing China and provisions for a new anticorruption agency that expands party oversight of all public servants.

Meeting lawmakers from southern Guangdong province on Wednesday, Mr. Xi said amending the constitution is a “major decision” by the party, aimed at promoting “rule of law” and improving governance.

The congress is due to elect Mr. Xi to a second presidential term later in the coming week. Lawmakers are also expected to approve a government-restructuring plan designed to expand party control over state agencies and strengthen Mr. Xi’s grip on all levers of power.

Mr. Xi telegraphed plans to stay on for the long haul in October, when the Communist Party declared him its greatest living theorist and appointed him to a second five-year term as party chief without a likely successor.

Sunday’s vote featured the fewest dissents and abstentions in the five times the congress approved revisions to China’s 1982 constitution. In 2004, the amendments were approved with just 10 dissents and 17 abstentions recorded among 2,890 valid ballots cast.

—Dominique Fong contributed to this article.

Write to Chun Han Wong at chunhan.wong@wsj.com

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