China votes to allow Xi Jinping to rule for life

China's President Xi Jinping claps after his speech as he and other new Politburo Standing Committee members meet with the press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee

China’s parliament has voted to amend its constitution to remove the two-term limit for the country’s president, effectively allowing president Xi Jinping to remain its leader for life.

Members of the National People’s Congress (NPC) took a vote on the constitution amendment, with an overwhelming 99.8 percent of the votes agreeing to make the change. The NPC said that 2,958 of the 2,964 votes were in favor of the proposition.

The decision puts Xi in a position to remain as the country’s president beyond 2023, when his two terms will have been completed. The amendment puts the presidential role in line with his role as the head of the ruling Communist Party, a position that does not have term limits.

The constitutional change has met opposition from liberal intellectuals and members of China’s middle class, who noted the reform’s similarity to the rule of Mao Zedong from 1949 to 1976.

However, the amendment was widely anticipated, as Xi consolidated power since becoming the leader of the Communist Party in 2012. With the NPC under the control of the Communist Party, passing the proposition was guaranteed a favorable vote after the party’s Central Committee agreed to it.

The very small number of opposing votes in the NPC demonstrates that people do not want to oppose Xi. “That is very serious because if no one is able to articulate an alternative view, then there is a real risk that policy debates could be narrowed, and the risk of policy mistakes will increase,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Meanwhile, Chinese students from around the world protested the vote with posters of Xi’s portrait featuring the phrases “Not My President” and “I Disagree.” The campaign shows a rare display of defiance by Chinese students who are living abroad, where freedom of expression is upheld.