Communist Party proposes ending two-term president limit

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Ruling party proposes to remove presidential limit of two terms

BEIJING China's ruling Communist Party yesterday set the stage for President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely, with a proposal to remove a constitutional clause limiting presidential service to two terms.

Since taking office more than five years ago, Mr Xi has overseen a radical shake-up of the party, including taking down top leaders once thought untouchable as part of his popular war on corruption.

Yesterday's announcement, carried by state news agency Xinhua, gave few details. It said the proposal had been made by the party's Central Committee, the largest of its elite ruling bodies. The proposal also covers the vice-president position.

Mr Xi, 64, is currently required by China's constitution to step down as president after two five-year terms.

There is no limit on his tenure as the party and military chief, though a maximum 10-year term is the norm.

He began his second term as head of the party and military in October at the end of a party congress held once every five years.

Historian and political commentator Zhang Lifan said the news was not unexpected, and it was hard to predict how long Mr Xi could stay on in power.

"In theory, he could serve longer than Mugabe but in reality, no one is sure exactly what will happen," Mr Zhang said, referring to Zimbabwe's former president, who was forced out of office in November after four decades in office.

Positive remarks filled the comments section of main state media outlets like the People's Daily but the move was not welcomed by everyone on China's Twitter-like Weibo service.

Constitutional reform needs to be approved by parliament, filled with members chosen for their party loyalty - meaning the reform will not be blocked.

There had been speculation that Mr Xi wanted to stay on past the customary two five-year terms - October's party congress ended without appointing a clear successor for Mr Xi.

However, the role of party chief is more senior than that of president. Mr Xi is currently the party's general secretary, but not chairman.

"Whether Mr Xi ends up being Party Chairman or just remains Party Secretary doesn't really matter. What matters is whether he holds on to power," said Mr Zhang Ming, a professor of political science at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

"Titles don't matter as much in China as they do in the West. Here what matters is whether you are the emperor," he added. - REUTERS