In a move likely to pave the way for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to stay at the country’s helm beyond his second five-year term, the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee has proposed to remove term limits for the president and vice president.
In a short release, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said that the Central Committee had proposed to remove from the country’s constitution the expression that the president and vice president “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.”
It said the proposal was made public Sunday, a day ahead of a scheduled meeting of the Central Committee. It was unclear why the announcement was made ahead of that meeting.
Xi, 64, was approved to begin his second five-year term late last year and is slated to step down in 2023. But many analysts believe he wants to stay in office longer.
Xi, the general-secretary of the Central Committee, had stressed the important role of the constitution on Saturday.
“No organization or individual has the power to overstep the constitution or the law,” Xinhua, in a separate report, quoted Xi as saying during a Central Committee Politburo meeting Saturday.
At a Central Committee plenary session in January, party leaders decided on a plan to write Xi’s guiding principle into the constitution at the National People’s Congress scheduled for next month. Xi will also be formally elected to his second term at the annual meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament, which opens March 5.
The principle, entitled “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” was added to the Communist Party’s constitution last year.
The country’s constitution was first adopted in 1982 and has not been amended since 2004. Speculation that Xi might seek to stay in office past his mandate has hit a fever pitch since he unveiled a new leadership line-up in October that didn’t include a clear possible heir.
Xi, as the son of a famed Communist Party veteran, is known as a “princeling.” He rose through the ranks to the position of Shanghai’s party leader in 2007 before being promoted the same year to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee. A year later, in a sign that he would succeed then-leader Hu Jintao, he was tapped to be vice president.
Since his elevation to the presidency in 2013, Xi has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown on corruption that has helped him eliminate rivals and consolidate his grip on power.
As commander in chief of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Xi has also been at the helm of a military modernization campaign that poured cash into the country’s defense budgets while streamlining its forces.
He has also moved to shore up his legacy, last year taking on the mantle of “core” of the party leadership, elevating him above his predecessors to a position reminiscent of communist China’s founder, Mao Zedong.
But at least one analyst said the announcement revealed weakness in the Communist Party’s bid to maintain power.
“I interpret this piece of news as evidence that the CCP is weaker and more vulnerable than thought, not strong and stable,” Lyle Morris, a China expert and senior analyst at the Rand Corp., wrote on Twitter in reference to the party. “A party that allows a leader through cult and power of personality to re-write the rules of succession is not a political party confident in itself.”