- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2018

Chinese lawmakers have passed a historic constitutional amendment abolishing term limits for its leader, effectively allowing Xi Jinping to rule the world’s largest county as president for life.

The amendment, approved on Sunday by China’s largely ceremonial parliament, upends a system enacted by its former leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to prevent a return to the bloody excesses of a lifelong dictatorship typified by Mao Zedong’s chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

“This marks the biggest regression in China’s legal system since the reform and opening-up era of the 1980s,” independent Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan told The Associated Press. “I’m afraid that this will all be written into our history in the future.”

On Sunday inside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, according to CNN, voting among the National People’s Congress’ nearly 3,000 hand-picked delegates began mid-afternoon as Mr. Xi led members of the Communist Party’s seven-member, all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in casting votes.

The 64-year-old placed his orange ballot paper in a red box bearing the official state seal placed front and center on the stage inside the cavernous hall.

Rank-and-file deputies then voted as jaunty instrumental music played. Ten minutes later, the process was over and delegates returned to their seats as votes were counted.

Then, shortly after 3:50 p.m., the results were read over the hall’s public address system and flashed briefly on a screen in the hall.

The final tally: 2,958 in favor, two opposed, three abstaining and one vote invalidated — or virtually no opposition to Mr. Xi’s push to rule for life.

“The constitutional amendment item has passed,” an announcer declared to polite applause, the AP reported.

Mr. Xi appeared to show little emotion, remaining in his seat with other deputies to listen to a report on the work of the congress delivered by its outgoing chairman.

Within minutes, the state news agency Xinhua’s English language website posted the headline: “China’s national legislature adopts constitutional amendment.” The vote also inserted Mr. Xi’s personal political philosophy into the preamble of the constitution.

Since taking office more than five years ago, Mr. Xi — the son of one of the CCP’s founding fathers — has managed a radical shake-up of the party and spearheaded an anti-corruption campaign that has taken down top leaders once thought untouchable.

His predecessor, President Hu Jintao, ruled largely by collective leadership and was often seen as a compromiser who was able to get various factions within China’s Communist Party to agree on policy. As of Sunday, that is history.

While officials have said the abolishing of the presidential term limits is aimed only at bringing the office of the president in line with Mr. Xi’s other positions atop the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission, which do not impose term limits — some scholars have questioned the wisdom of the move.

They argue the rapid slide toward one-man rule fuels concerns that Beijing is eroding efforts to guard against the excesses of autocratic leadership and make economic regulation more stable and predictable.

While Mr. Xi’s confident, populist leadership style and tough attitude toward official corruption have been noted as having won him a significant degree of popular support, China’s embattled liberal scholars and activists said Sunday they fear even greater repression.

China allows no political opposition in any form and has relentlessly persecuted independent groups seeking greater civic participation. Leading Chinese officials have meanwhile repeatedly rejected any chance of adopting Western-style separation of powers or multiparty democracy.

On Sunday, in a sign of the vote’s sensitivity, government censors were said to be aggressively scrubbing social media of opposition to the historic move.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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