A Chinese official defended President Xi Jinping’s move to abolish presidential term limits saying it would strengthen the country’s governance as the annual National People’s Congress was expected to green-light the move.
With the two-week legislative session beginning on Monday, the body is being asked to amend the Constitution so Xi can serve more than two terms in office, which could mean he remains China’s leader for life.
Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress, said on Sunday that China’s Communist Party does not have provisions such as term limits, so the Constitution shouldn’t either.
“It’s conducive to upholding the authority of the Central Committee of the party with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core and also to unify leadership. Also, it will help strengthen and improve the country’s governance,” Zhang said of the plan.
Xi is likely to get his way. The National People’s Congress is viewed as a largely rubber-stamp body controlled by the ruling Communist Party and has never voted down a proposal from party leaders.
Some were critical of the move to do away with presidential term limits.
“Most of the modern countries in the world adopt this two-term presidency. That’s why people find it unbelievable that Xi is going to stay in power more than two terms,” said political commentator Deng Yuwen.
He said the move would end inner-party speculation about who will replace Xi after his new six-year term expires.
“How can the China dream be realised if nobody listens to him? He can’t let that happen. That’s why he wants to send this signal: ‘I’ll continue to be leader and you’d better stop guessing who my successor will be,'” said Deng.
Combined with Xi’s plans to eliminate term limits on his rule and his consolidation of control over the military, a lack of public information about defence spending and military planning “pushes China towards a more authoritarian and militarised leadership”, said Peter Jennings, executive director of the non-partisan Australian Strategic Policy Institute think-tank.
“These trends should be deeply concerning to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond,” he said.
US President Donald Trump apparently backs Xi’s no-presidential-term-limit proposal.
“He’s now president for life, president for life. And he’s great,” Trump said, according to audio of excerpts of the president’s remarks at a closed-door fundraiser in Florida on Saturday night.
“And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”
Trump’s comments during the light-hearted speech drew criticism from some quarters.
US Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat, said on Twitter that “whether this was a joke or not, talking about being president for life like Xi Jinping is the most un-American sentiment expressed by an American president. George Washington would roll over in his grave,” said Khanna.
US presidents by tradition served a maximum of two four-year terms until President Franklin Roosevelt was elected a record four times starting in 1932. An amendment to the US Constitution approved in 1951 limits presidents to two terms in office.