The Associated PressBEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping is poised to make a historic power grab as China’s legislators gather from Monday to approve changes that will let him rule indefinitely and undo decades of efforts to prevent a return to crushing dictatorship.
This year’s gathering of the ceremonial National People’s Congress has been overshadowed by Xi’s surprise move — announced just a week ago — to end constitutional two-term limits on the presidency. The changes would allow Xi, already China’s most powerful leader in decades, to extend his rule over the world’s second largest economy possibly for life.
“This is a critical moment in China’s history,” said Cheng Li, an expert on elite China politics at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The move is widely seen as the culmination of the 64-year-old Xi’s efforts since being appointed leader of the ruling Communist Party in 2012 to concentrate power in his own hands and defy norms of collective leadership established over the past two decades. Xi has appointed himself to head bodies that oversee national security, finance, economic reform and other major initiatives, effectively sidelining the party’s No. 2 figure, Premier Li Keqiang.
Once passed, the constitutional amendment would upend a system enacted by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to prevent a return to the bloody excesses of a lifelong dictatorship typified by Mao Zedong’s chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
“Deng Xiaoping’s abolishment of lifetime tenure for the leadership and more institutionalized transitions in power are very much in question,” Li said.
Passage of the proposed constitutional amendment by the congress’ nearly 3,000 handpicked delegates is all but certain. But observers will be looking to see how many delegates abstain from voting as an indication of the reservations the move has encountered even within the political establishment.
Chinese authorities have tightly controlled discussion about the removal of term limits, scrubbing social media of critical and satirical comments. State media have been largely muted about the topic, but the official People’s Daily sought to reassure the public by saying in a commentary that the move did not signal a return to lifelong rule.
“This amendment does not mean changes in the system of retirement for party and state leaders and also does not imply that leaders will have lifetime tenure,” the party’s mouthpiece said Thursday.
Still, a number of prominent Chinese figures have publicly protested the move, despite the risk of official retaliation.
Li Datong, a former editor for the state-run China Youth Daily, wrote that lifting term limits would “sow the seeds of chaos” and urged Beijing’s lawmakers to exercise their power by rejecting the amendment. Wang Ying, a businesswoman who has advocated government reforms, called the proposal “an outright betrayal.”
Many expressed shock and disbelief at what they perceived to be a return to the Mao era, and the massive upheaval, violence and chaos of the Cultural Revolution 50 years ago that has barely faded from memory.Speech