China sets stage for President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely
Written by: International
Category: Politics

Beijing - China’s ruling Communist Party on Sunday set the stage for President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely, with a proposal to remove a constitutional clause limiting presidential service to just two terms in office. Since taking office more than five years ago, Xi has overseen a radical shake-up of the party, including taking down top leaders once thought untouchable as part of his popular war on deep-rooted corruption. Sunday’s announcement, carried by state news agency Xinhua, gave few details.

It said the proposal had been made by the party’s Central Committee, the largest of its elite ruling bodies. The proposal also covers the vice president position. Zhang Lifan, a historian and political commentator, said the news was not unexpected, and it was hard to predict exactly how long Xi could stay on in power.

Emperor XI

Constitutional reform needs to be approved by parliament, which is stacked with members chosen for their loyalty to the party - meaning the reform will not be blocked. There has been persistent speculation that Xi wants to stay on in office past the customary two five-year terms. The October party congress ended without appointing a clear eventual successor for Xi. However, the role of party chief is more senior than that of president. At some point, Xi could be given a party position that also enables him to stay on as long as he likes. Xi is currently the party’s general secretary, but not chairman. China’s first three leaders after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 all carried the title party chairman -Mao Zedong, Hua Guofeng and then Hu Yaobang. It has not been used since. “Whether Xi ends up being Party Chairman or just remains Party Secretary doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether he holds onto power,” said Zhang Ming, a professor of political science at Renmin University of China in Beijing. “Titles don’t matter as much in China as they do in the West. Here what matters is whether you are the emperor,” he added. “In China, ordinary people already consider Xi Jinping to be the emperor.”

Mao, the founder of Communist China and still held in god-like awe by many Chinese, died while still Communist Party chairman in 1976, having never retired. State media has also increasingly been using the term “lingxiu” to refer to Xi, which means “leader”. Distinct from the standard usage of “lingdao” for leader, “lingxiu” evokes grander, almost spiritual, connotations. Mao, for example, was referred to as “lingxiu”, but Xi’s two immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, were not. In a Sunday commentary on its WeChat account, state television said: “The people love the people’s ‘lingxiu’!”, above a picture of Xi being greeted by an adoring crowd in Sichuan province earlier this month.

(With Afp/Reuters/Xinhua)