By K J M Varma
Beijing, Feb 25 (PTI) In an unprecedented move, China’s ruling Communist Party today prepared the ground for President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely after the end of his second term in 2022 as it proposed to remove presidential term limits from the party’s Constitution.
The CPC Central Committee proposed removing the clause that the President and Vice-President “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms” from the country’s Constitution, state-run Xinhua news agency reported today.
The removal of the term limit, which is expected to be endorsed by the Plenum of the party to be held tomorrow would give 64-year-old Xi, regarded as the most powerful leader in modern China, a limitless tenure.
Xi’s predecessors, Jiang Zemin who was in power from 1993 to 2003 and Hu Jintao from 2003 to 2013 stepped down as the General Secretary of the party as well as the president after widely followed rule as well as a convention of two terms to promote collective leadership system in the one-party state.
If China pushes ahead with the proposal, Xi would become the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who ruled for more than three decades through 1976.
President Xi, who is also the general secretary of the CPC and chairman of the Central Military Commission, began his second five-year tenure last year, following a national Congress of the CPC.
A seven-man leadership committee unveiled last year included no potential successor, raising the prospect that Xi intends to govern beyond his second term.
Since then, all organs of the party have declared him as the topmost leader of the party setting aside the principle of collective party leadership that was followed in the last three decades.
The CPC Central Committee also today proposed writing Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era into the country’s Constitution.
This would make Xi the only leader after Mao and his predecessor Deng Xiaoping whose thoughts were written into the Constitution. It would place him above the rest of the leaders of the party.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an American scholar on China who moved closely with Chinese leaders and scholars for decades, told PTI earlier that the inclusion of Xi’s thoughts in the Constitution and his “core leadership” status conferred on him by the party previously put him “substantially ahead of others” in the party.
Besides the two-term rule, top Chinese leaders also followed a convention of retiring after 68 years.
With the status of “core leader” and his name written into the Constitution, the retirement age limit is not expected to be applicable to Xi. As per the existing convention, he is due to retire after 2022. Observers say as “core leader” Xi could continue as General Secretary of the CPC.
The new amendment to the Constitution removing the two term rule would clear the last impediment for him to continue as the president for an unprecedented third term after 2022.
Since Xi took over power he consolidated his hold on power with massive anti-graft campaign in which over a million officials from the top to bottom were punished.
The three-day party plenum beginning here tomorrow is also expected to change the top echelons of the Chinese government by packing the powerful posts with Xi’s loyalists.
Yesterday the CPC Central Committee meeting headed by Xi discussed a list of proposed candidates for state leadership positions, Xinhua reported without disclosing details.
The names would be referred for the approval of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which would begin its annual session on March 5.
The NPC often referred to as rubber stand parliament for its routine approval of CPC proposals will hold its session along with the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a consultative body.
Xi was elected as the head of the Party and President in 2013 and later took over as head of the military.
In 2016, the CPC officially gave him the title of “core” leader.
The thoughts of two of Xi’s predecessors were mentioned in the Constitution but not their names.
Any attempt to challenge Xi or his thinking would be seen as defiance against the party.