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China’s president for life

International | Analysts warn the country could fall back to a dictatorship after parliament abolishes term limits
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 3/13/18, 01:21 pm

The Chinese parliament on Sunday paved the way for President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely after voting to scrap presidential term limits. The move heightened concerns over rights abuses in a country already gripped by an intensifying crackdown in recent months.

The nearly 3,000-member National People’s Congress met Sunday during an annual parliamentary session that included some significant constitutional amendments.

In addition to abolishing term limits, the amendments also added Xi’s name and ideology to the country’s constitution and created a new anti-graft commission responsible for investigating officials. The commission, started as a campaign in 2012, already has punished nearly 2 million officials. Only two members of parliament voted against the amendments, and three others abstained.

“Xi has shown us the right direction in development and if you have found the right path, why change?” said Yuan Weixia, one of the delegates from Hubei province. “We need strong leadership which can keep leading us forward.”

Chinese state newspaper The Global Times also defended the amendments and said China has seen the “harsh reality that the Western political system doesn’t apply to developing countries and produces dreadful results.”

China intensified its crackdown on dissent before the October biannual National Congress meeting that saw Xi begin his second term and tighten his grip on power. ChinaAid last month reported the mysterious death of internationally renowned Christian human rights lawyer Li Baiguang. Authorities claimed Li died of liver complications at an army hospital, although he had no previous health issues. In February, the country sentenced prominent rights activist Wu Gan to eight years in prison—the harshest sentence handed down since the crackdown on activism began.

The abolished term limits resurrected fears of Mao Zedong’s dictatorship, when China witnessed the Great Famine that killed tens of millions of people and the brutal Cultural Revolution. China added the two-term presidential limit to the constitution in 1982, six years after Mao’s death. Yanmei Xie, a policy analyst with Gavel Dragonomics in Beijing, said the decision to remove term limits could similarly hurt the country in the long run. “The room for debate is becoming narrower,” he said. “The risk of a policy mistake could become higher, and correcting a flawed policy could take longer.”

The amendments also drew criticism from Chinese students abroad. A Twitter account called @stopxijinping, launched March 1, shared photographs showing posters of Xi with the comment, “Not my president,” posted across university campuses in the United States and United Kingdom. The account now has nearly 3,000 followers.

Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, said in a statement the constitutional amendments further threaten human rights within the country and abroad: “By amending the constitution to provide a wrapping of ‘legality’ to a dictatorship and total ideological control, the leadership has not only torn off the thin veil of its claims to ‘rule the country according to law,’ but also exposed its naked use of the law as a tool to ensure ideological compliance and unquestioned loyalty to the Party.”

Associated Press/Photo by Hein Htet (pool) Associated Press/Photo by Hein Htet (pool) Aung San Suu Kyi

U.S. museum rescinds award to Burmese leader

The United States Holocaust Museum last week rescinded the Elie Wiesel Award it gave Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012, over her silence on the Rohingya crisis in her country, which is also known as Burma.

Suu Kyi received the Wiesel award following her efforts to oppose Myanmar’s military regime. But beginning last year, she has faced international criticism for failing to respond to mass attacks against Rohingya Muslims. Since August, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled into neighboring Bangladesh after security officials launched clearance operations the United Nations termed “genocide.”

In a letter dated March 6, the museum noted it started to monitor assaults against the Rohingya in 2013. “We understand the difficult situation you must face in confronting the military misrule and violence in your country, and that institution’s still powerful constitutional role,” the letter said. “However, the military’s orchestration of the crimes against Rohingya and the severity of the atrocities in recent months demand that you use your moral authority to address this situation.”

In a Monday report, Amnesty International said eyewitness accounts and satellite imagery showed the military has started to build new roads and structures over the burned Rohingya lands, further fueling claims of ethnic genocide. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Liusjenas Kulbis (file) Associated Press/Photo by Liusjenas Kulbis (file) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie Abe

Land scandal incriminates Japanese prime minister

The Japanese finance ministry on Monday admitted it altered documents in favor of the prime minister’s wife in a land scandal that is increasingly drawing backlash. The scandal began last year after reports surfaced that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie, helped sell public land for one-seventh its actual value to a right-wing school operator they supported. Abe denied the allegations and promised to resign if an investigation proved his guilt. Finance Minister Taro Aso said the investigation found 14 altered documents with changes made under the Financial Bureau’s instructions. The finance ministry also confirmed it omitted a reference that Akie Abe recommended the land deal after the scandal surfaced, as well as references to several other influential lawmakers. Nobuhisa Sagawa, the official in charge of the deal, was later promoted to chief of the National Tax Agency in what critics called a reward. The prime minister apologized Monday but said he would not step down. “People are looking critically at the developments, and I take it seriously,” he said. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Abe’s office Monday to demand he and his Cabinet resign. —O.O.

Pentagon adds danger pay for U.S. troops in Niger

The Pentagon last week added Niger, Mali, and parts of northern Cameroon to a list of countries where deployed U.S. troops receive imminent danger pay. The decision comes five months after four U.S. soldiers died in ambush in Niger. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command, requested the additional funds in June. Robert Wilkie, the undersecretary of defense, signed a memo that approves retroactive payments back to June 7. The danger pay totals $225 a month—$7.50 a day. U.S. troops in at least 14 other African countries already qualify for the pay. Families of U.S. soldiers who died in the October ambush will receive the retroactive pay for the duration of the time the soldiers served in the country. —O.O.

Lightning strike in Rwanda kills 16 worshippers

Sixteen worshippers died and 140 others sustained injuries when lightning struck a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Rwanda. Emmanuel Ruremesha, a church elder, told Rwandan newspaper The New Times that the preacher had just walked up to the pulpit when rain started to fall. “Suddenly, there was a big bang, I saw a thunderbolt strike worshippers,” Ruremesha said. “We all fell down for minutes.” Rose Mureshyankwano, a provincial governor, said authorities rushed the injured congregants to a nearby hospital for treatment. Lightning strikes frequently occur in the mountainous region of Rwanda, especially during the rainy season. Last week, a lighting strike killed one person after it hit a group of 18 students. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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