China may emerge stronger economically, militarily and politically if legislators lift limits on terms of office of the president at National People’s Congress starting from Monday (March 5).
On the face of it, a lifelong rule gives president (Xi Jingping) unlimited time, space and powers to set goals in several key areas he heads like defence and finance and achieve them. A term or two may not be enough for a president to bring positive results in fighting corruption or eliminating poverty.
From a democrat’s point of view, such power grab and lifelong rule may appear absurd and unjust as roles of many leaders in the party hierarchy may become considerably reduced, making some redundant.
But in a communist setup where focus is on stability, order and results, an eternal president gets ample space and time to experiment with his ideas and reforms.
However, if one looks at lifelong presidential rule from a historical perspective, it signals a return to the dictatorship China saw during the rule of Mao Zedong. This is what former reformist leader Deng Xiaoping feared most.
So to prevent lifelong rule by another Mao-like leader, he enacted a constitutional amendment in 1982 limiting the terms of office of a president. This important rule is going to be revoked at the Congress.
China gazers were surprised when President Xi Jinping last week announced the plan to scrap the rule on two-term limits on presidency. Since he took power in 2012, Xi has emerged as the most powerful leader after Mao. His second term was to end in 2023.
The two-week Congress ahead will certainly abolish the constitutional amendment and make Xi the eternal president. One cannot expect a healthy debate on this issue at the event where the 3,000-odd handpicked delegates will be just listening to their master’s voice.
XI may become more aggressive on world stage after becoming China’s lifelong president. Unlike most previous presidents, XI has been very assertive on issues like the South China Sea, its international borders with India and Bhutan and Dalai Lama. The 73-day stand-off between China and India over Dhoklam border last year is a case in point.