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China constitution change allows Xi Jinping to rule for life

By Allen Cone
China constitution change allows Xi Jinping to rule for life
Chinese President Xi Jinping casts his vote Sunday during the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Among the Constitution changes presidential term limits were removed. Photo by How Hwee Young/EPA

March 11 (UPI) -- China's legislature nearly unanimously endorsed a change to the Constitution Sunday in Bejing, formally removing term limits to enable Xi Jinping to stay on as the president for life.

Out of 2,964 ballots by the National People's Congress, two delegates voted against the move and three abstained in the biggest change to the Constitution in 36 years. The amendments' passage required two-thirds of the vote.

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Otherwise, Xi's term would expire in 2023.

The two-term limit was approved in 1982 to prevent a repeat of a decades-long reign by Mao Zedong, who died while in office.

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Before the vote by the largely ceremonial parliament, the ruling Communist Party announced the proposals on Feb. 25. It said it aligned the presidency with Xi's two other, more powerful, posts -- heads of the party and the military -- without no term limits.

Xi, 64, last week endorsed the proposed constitutional changes as a desire of "common will of the party and the people."

In China, there was opposition to the change.

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"He just dug a huge hole for himself," Li Datong, a former editor of the state-run China Youth Daily newspaper said to CNN. "The top leader's term limits are the biggest common denominator shared by all political forces in China. Its removal could trigger political infighting -- that's why this move is dangerous."

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Shen Chunyao, a senior NPC official, said to media after the vote: "I don't think this issue exists."

The amendment also applies to the vice presidency, a largely ceremonial post.

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Wang Qishan, China's fearsome former anti-corruption czar, is likely to become the new vice president later this week.

"He's a bit of bulldozer -- and there's no other senior politician who could or want to stand up to him," Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director for Asia at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said to CNN. "The trouble with being the clear leader of everything is that everyone knows where the buck stops if something goes wrong."

In another major constitutional change approved Sunday, a national anti-corruption agency, called the National Supervision Commission, was approved. It has the same high-level status as the supreme court and the top prosecutor's office.

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The NSC can prosecute anyone who exercises public authority, instead of just Communist Party members.

"It looks very much like the early stage of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, the accumulation of power," Innes-Ker said. "The bigger question is whether or not this accumulation of power around Xi is positive or negative for reform."

Also among the 21 constitutional changes, Xi's political doctrine -- "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" -- was added to the Constitution. The party added this to its charter in October.

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