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Xi Jinping’s unprecedented third term as China’s president was officially endorsed by the country’s political elite on Friday, solidifying his control and making him the longest-serving head of state of Communist China since its founding in 1949.
Xi was reappointed Friday as president for another five years by China’s rubber-stamp legislature in a ceremonial vote in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People – a highly choreographed exercise in political theater meant to demonstrate the legitimacy and unity of the ruling elite.
He received a unanimous 2,952 votes followed by a standing ovation.
The reappointment of Xi, China’s most powerful and authoritarian leader in decades, was largely seen as a formality, after the 69-year-old secured a norm-shattering third term as head of the Chinese Communist Party last fall.
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In China, the presidency – or “state chairman” in Chinese – is a largely ceremonial title. Real power resides in the positions head of the party and military – two key roles that Xi also holds and was reappointed to at a key Communist Party congress in October.
Nevertheless, his reappointment as head of state officially completes his transition into a second decade in power.
And it comes amid a broader reshuffle of leadership roles in the central government, or the State Council, and other state organizations that further increases Xi’s already firm grasp on the levers of power.
Li Qiang, one of Xi’s most trusted protégés, is expected to be chosen China’s premier on Saturday.
Traditionally, the premiership is an influential role in charge of the economy, although over the past decade, its power has been severely eroded by Xi, who has taken almost all decision-making into his own hands.
On Friday, the National People’s Congress (NPC) also appointed other key state leaders, including Zhao Leji as the body’s head and Han Zheng as the country’s vice-president.
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The newly appointed leaders all took a public oath of allegiance to the Chinese constitution inside the Great Hall of the People.
The NPC also approved a sweeping plan to reform institutions under the State Council, including the formation of a financial regulatory body and national data bureau and a revamp of its science and technology ministry.
The overhaul is seen as a further step by Xi to strengthen Communist Party control over key areas of policy making.
No Chinese leader had held the title of head of state for more than 10 years, including Communist China’s founding father, Chairman Mao Zedong.
Liu Shaoqi, who took over as state chairman from Mao in 1959, was sacked in 1968 and persecuted to death a year later during Mao’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution.
After Mao’s death, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping introduced presidential term limits in China’s constitution in 1982 to avoid the kind of chaos and catastrophe seen under Mao’s life-long rule.
Deng also led institutional reforms to bring a greater separation of positions and functions between the party and the state.
In 2018, China’s legislature abolished presidential term limits in a ceremonial vote, effectively allowing Xi to rule for life.
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