China’s parliament set to back ‘living god’ Xi’s lifetime rule

Critics fearful of despotism in world’s second largest economy

Chinese president Xi Jinping has cracked down on civil society in China in recent years. File photograph: Wu Hong/ EPA

Chinese president Xi Jinping has cracked down on civil society in China in recent years. File photograph: Wu Hong/ EPA


Nearly 4,000 delegates gathered for China’s ceremonial parliament are set to give hefty backing on Sunday to a plan to remove term limits on the presidency, clearing the way for Xi Jinping to remain as leader indefinitely.

While sceptics, both Western and domestic, have complained the move makes China look like North Korea or marks a reversion to Chairman Mao Zedong-era despotism, delegates at the annual National People’s Congress (NPC) say it is the will of the people and insist Mr Xi is China’s best option.

Indeed, one delegate, Wang Guosheng, Communist Party secretary in the western province of Qinghai, home to many Tibetan Buddhists and birthplace of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, said Mr Xi was a living god, or boddhisttva, an individual who carries out compassionate acts to achieve enlightenment.

“The ordinary people in the herder areas say, only general secretary Xi is a living bodhisattva. This is a really vivid thing to say,” Mr Wang told the Beijing News.

For Mr Xi, he said he needed to to stay in power beyond the normal end of his term in 2023 is to allow him to complete his vision of a moderately prosperous society and a rejuvenated China with global influence, as well as create a military to defend China’s growing interests in the region and develop the Belt and Road infrastructure project.

The vote on Sunday is expected to be widely carried by the 3,780 delegates in the Great Hall of the People. The NPC has never voted against any measure the Communist Party has imposed on the legislature.

After the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), a period of ideological frenzy orchestrated by Chairman Mao Zedong, which attacked intellectuals and top cadres, including Mr Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun, the party introduced checks and balances to stop a recurrence of the Mao-era cult of personality and over-concentration of power in one person.

Among those measures was a limit of two five-year presidential terms, written into China’s constitution after Mao’s death in 1976 by Deng Xiaoping, who favoured a collective leadership answerable to the party elite.

However, Mr Xi (64), has gradually adapted these measures to give himself more and more power at the “core” of the Communist Party.

In the five years since he took over the leadership, he has cracked down on civil society in China and increased the focus on central leadership, while also carrying out an anti-corruption campaign that has seen many of his political rivals jailed.

General secretary of the party is the most important of the three roles Mr Xi holds, the second being head of the Central Military Commission. Neither of these two roles have any term limits, although the holders are expected to step down in the event of old age or ill health. By ending term limits on the presidency, he frees his hand to rule indefinitely.