China to drop presidential term limits, clearing way for Xi Jinping to stay on

CNN  — 

China’s Communist Party (CCP) has proposed amending the country’s constitution to allow President Xi Jinping to serve a third term in office.

State-run news agency Xinhua said the Party will remove the provision that the President and Vice President “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms” from the constitution of the People’s Republic of China.

The proposed amendment will have to be ratified by China’s rubber-stamp parliament – the National People’s Congress (NPC) – in March.

When it goes into effect, Xi will be free to serve indefinitely as China’s head of state, the strongest indication yet he is intending to maintain power at the top beyond the two 5-year terms served by his predecessors for the past 20 years.

Break with tradition

Plans to change the country’s constitution for the first time since 2004 were announced in December, with most analysts predicting the Party would seek to modify the country’s top legal document to create a National Supervision Commission (NSC), a country-wide anti-corruption task force with sweeping new powers.

In January, the Party’s top body proposed also adding “Xi Jinping Thought” to the document, enshrining it alongside Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought as a key guiding principle of the country.

Experts predicted last October that Xi may seek to stay on as leader after he failed to unveil an obvious successor at a major party congress, appearing to break with an unwritten rule of two five-year terms as head of the party.

However, some doubted whether this would require a constitutional change, saying Xi could simply retain power through his role as General Secretary of the CCP, which does not have term limits, rather than the ceremonial presidency.

Deng Xiaoping, the most powerful Chinese leader after Mao Zedong, gave up most of his official titles but retained a tight grip on the country until his death in 1997.

By contrast, Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao was pushed out of his political roles and stripped of influence once Xi came to power. Since then he has rarely taken part in public engagements and many of his allies have fallen to Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.

Thomas Kellogg, executive director of Georgetown Law Asia, wrote last year that were Xi to follow the traditional 10-year term limit, “no doubt (he) could find a way to include himself in future high-flying global confabs, just as he could insert himself into key national meetings usually chaired by the Chinese president.”

“But doing so would be made more difficult and create a potential rival in the form of the new president,” he said. “Authoritarian rulers must constantly worry about whether their top lieutenants will seek to gain political advantage by betraying their own political patron, and Xi would be no exception.”