China’s parliament voted to amend the country’s constitution on March 11, effectively giving President Xi Jinping an indefinite lease on power.
The constitutional amendments included scrapping presidential and vice-presidential term limits, adding Xi’s political ideology to the constitution, and creating a legal framework for a revamped anti-corruption department. The proposals, which were announced February 25, passed with only two votes against and three abstentions, out of 2,964 votes.
China had imposed a two-term limit on its president since the 1990s, a move which some analysts say helped ensure smooth transitions of power in the world’s largest country with one-party rule.
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Online criticism draws strict censorship
Following state-broadcaster, Xinhua’s, announcement of the proposal on February 25, some took to social media to criticize the measure, saying it would give Xi too much power. “Argh, we’re going to become North Korea,” said a Weibo user. Others sought to evade censorship by posting sentences, words, and ‘memes‘ that indirectly criticized the measures while avoiding blocked language (The Financial Times), a long-standing game of cat-and-mouse (China Digital Times) between censors and citizens in China’s highly-regulated internet.
In the weeks following the announcement, the Chinese government clamped down on social media criticism of the proposal to do away with presidential term limits. It blocked certain phrases on social media and published pro-government editorials in leading state-run newspapers (The Global Times).
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China’s censors blocked dozens of online terms with websites like micro-blogging platform Weibo and search-engine Baidu affected (The Financial Times). Phrases including “I disagree”, “migration,” and “two term limit” were restricted. Anyone searching for these terms on Weibo encountered a message that reads: “Sorry, the content violates the relevant laws and regulations or Weibo’s terms of service.”
The Financial Times reported that the phrase “boarding a plane,” a homophone for “ascending the throne”, was also censored.
The Global Times, a widely read state-run newspaper, published an editorial that defended the proposal, arguing that to “remove the two-term limit of the Chinese president can help… improve the institution of leadership of the CPC and the nation.” However, it also said the change did not necessarily mean the Chinese leader will have a “lifelong tenure.”
The constitutional amendments were made by China’s powerful Central Committee, a body of 205 full members made up of the top leaders of the Communist Party.
Xi is reaching the end of his first five-year presidential term, and will be formally elected for a second when China’s “rubber-stamp parliament” (Reuters) opens on March 5. He began his second term as the party and military leader following a party congress in October that also enshrined his philosophy, or “thought”, in the party’s ideology.
Xi is widely seen as one of China’s three most powerful rulers, on par with party founder Mao Zedong and reformer Deng Xiaoping. Since taking office in early 2013, Xi has waged war on internal corruption and presided over a more forceful national foreign policy.