In an extraordinary historic move, the National People's Congress of China (NPC), a 'rubber stamp' legislature, has almost unanimously passed a law on March 11, 2018 allowing Xi Jinping, 64, to rule China indefinitely, at least in theory. As expected, nearly 3,000 'hand-picked' deputies of the NPC removed president's two-term limit and reversed an earlier scheme ratified by the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982. President Xi, who assumed office in March 2013 and began his second term in October 2017, can now officially and legitimately rule the nation for as long as he wishes.
The term limit was introduced by Deng mainly to thwart reappearance of the excesses of a lifetime authoritarian ruler. It principally referred to Mao Tse-tung's catastrophic political drive with his topsy-turvy Cultural Revolution throughout 1966-76.
The state media claimed that the latest revision is aimed at bringing the office of the president to conform to the Xi Jinping's two other simultaneous commanding positions which do not enforce any term limits. The media also celebrated the remarkable nationalistic amendment of the constitution and emphasised that it will enable the Chinese people to achieve their goal of a "great modern socialist country".
The Shanghai Daily (March 12) held that "China's National People's Congress…. enshrined Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era in the country's Constitution… codifying its guiding role".
Thus, Xi's ideology was written in the preamble of the constitution along with other special theories as a guide to China's domestic and global policies, actions, and strategies. Analysts think 'lifetime' Presidency of Xi may transform China for better or worse.
Since there is no provision for a debate or discussion in the Chinese parliament, the amendment was passed through enthusiastic support. It is reported that only two of the 2,964 deputies present voted against the constitutional amendment, three others refrained and one invalid vote giving Xi 3958 votes. That means amendment to the constitution received 99.79 per cent of the votes cast.
The revision of the constitution was widely predictable as the NPC has never rejected a resolution of the Chinese Communist Party during the past 64 years.
In fact, with vast powers, as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, President Xi himself directed the amendment to the constitution. Thus, the approval by the NPC was merely symbolic and formality. Possibly, Xi wanted to display to the world that the endorsement reflects the general "will of the people" of China.
However, there has been worldwide dismay as many bluntly criticised the constitutional amendment and strongly voiced their concerns. Critics abroad have described it as power grabs. They believe unrestrained 'one-person rule' is likely to end in disaster as it happened with China's Mao Tse-tung who spearheaded the country's communist revolution. Analysts think 'lifetime presidency' of Xi may transform China for better or worse.
China's neighbours, particularly India, Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea, and also its adversaries are naturally worried about an assertive China under President Xi. They are concerned about powerful China's growing role, assertiveness and strategic competition amidst US President Trump's mixed signals in the region.
This change in the constitution is undoubtedly a dramatic modification in the Chinese national government and politics in decades. Most critics have reacted sharply as if China were a democratic country and this histrionic change signalled to authoritarianism. But China has never been a democratic country in the usual Western sense; it is a one-party state with some competition within the party. This revision to the constitution has effectively removed whatever inner-party competition there was, and President Xi has successfully prevented the possibility of party-political challenges against him for at least one more decade.
Analysts firmly believe that China will continuously remain as a predominantly one-party state, but with this change, there will also be 'one-man rule' in the foreseeable future. In addition, Chinese domestic politics will probably remain safe and stabilised at least through to 2021 anniversary of the Communist Party of China.
But some core questions remains: What is President Xi's new strategic plan in the Chinese as well as global politics? Does he merely intend to ensure the communist party's continued rule? Will he be more assertive or diplomatic in extending China's geopolitical and economic interests? The China watchers of the world will closely watch the 'one-man rule', celebrated with three most powerful state positions of China without dissent.
Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.
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