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.”