(AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping was awarded a third five-year term as the nation’s president Friday, putting him on track to stay in power for life at a time of severe economic challenges and rising tensions with the U.S. and others.
The endorsement of Xi’s appointment by the ceremonial National People’s Congress was a foregone conclusion for a leader who has sidelined potential rivals and filled the top ranks of the ruling Communist Party with his supporters since taking power in 2012.
The vote for Xi was 2,952 to 0 by the NPC, members of which are appointed by the ruling party.
Xi, 69, had himself named to a third five-year term as party general secretary in October, breaking with a tradition under which Chinese leaders handed over power once a decade. A two-term limit on the figurehead presidency was deleted from the Chinese constitution earlier, prompting suggestions he might stay in power for life.
No candidate lists were distributed, and Xi and those awarded other posts were believed to have run unopposed. The election process remains almost entirely shrouded in secrecy, apart from the process by which delegates to the congress placed four ballots into boxes placed around the vast auditorium of the Great Hall of the People.
Xi was also unanimously named commander of the 2 million-member People’s Liberation Army, a force that explicitly takes its orders from the party rather than the country.
In other voting, the party’s third-ranking official Zhao Leji was named head of the National People’s Congress. The vast majority of the body’s legislative work is headed by its Standing Committee, which meets year-round.
A holdover from the previous party Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of political power in China headed by Xi, Zhao, 67, won Xi’s trust as head of the party’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, pursuing an anti-graft campaign that has frozen all potential opposition to the leader.
Former Shanghai party boss and member of the last Politburo Standing Committee Han Zheng was named to the largely ceremonial post of state vice president.
Xi, Zhao and Han then took the oath of office with one hand on a copy of the Chinese constitution. The session also swore in 14 congress vice chairpersons.
Xi’s new term and the appointment of loyalists to top posts underscores his near-total monopoly on Chinese political power, eliminating any potential opposition to his hyper-nationalistic agenda of building China into the top political, military and economic rival to the U.S. and the chief authoritarian challenge to the Washington-led democratic world order.
While six others serve with him on the Politburo Standing Committee, all have longstanding ties to Xi and can be counted on to see to his will on issues from party discipline to economic management.
The standing committee has only men and the 24-member Politburo, which has had only four female members since the 1990s, also has no women after the departure of Vice Premier Sun Chunlan.
Second-ranked Li Qiang is widely expected to take over as premier, nominally in charge of the Cabinet and caretaker of the economy. Li is best known for ruthlessly enforcing a brutal “zero-COVID” lockdown on Shanghai last spring as party boss of the Chinese financial hub, proving his loyalty to Xi in the face of complaints from residents over their lack of access to food, medical care and basic services.
Former head of the manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong province, seventh-ranked Li Xi has already been appointed to replace Zhao as head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
The congress is also expected to pass a measures intensifying party control over national level government organs as part of Xi’s campaign of centralizing power under the party.
At the opening of the annual congress session on Sunday, outgoing Premier Li Keqiang announced plans for a consumer-led revival of the struggling economy, setting this year’s growth target at “around 5%.” Last year’s growth in the world’s second-largest economy fell to 3%, the second-weakest level since at least the 1970s.
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