With the lopsided outcome of 2,958 votes in favor, two against, three abstentions and one invalid, China’s National People’s Congress passed changes to the country’s constitution lifting the presidential term limit, opening the way for President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely. It was an almost unanimous approval with 99.8 percent of the delegates voting in favor of amending the constitution despite earlier speculation that more would vote against the revision considering the public’s criticism of the authoritarian rule. The approval rate was even higher than that of the 2004 revision, 99.1 percent (with 2,863 votes in favor, ten against, 17 abstentions).
For the vote on Sunday, 26 ballot boxes were set up at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. However, a private voting booth with a retractable curtain was nowhere to be seen. Delegates directly marked their individual ballot in their seats and went to a booth one after another to cast a vote. They were also required to throw the A4-size ballot paper into the box without folding it, letting a mark on the paper be seen from outside. This means that it was actually an open vote. President Xi was also caught on camera casting a yes vote on the paper.
The National People’s Congress, China’s national legislature is comprised of the country’s top elites at all levels by region, organization and class. Around 3,000 delegates of the Congress are given with the term of five years. As they are mostly members of the Communist Party, there has been no such case where the National People’s Congress rejected a bill that had been passed at the Communist Party’s Politburo and Central Committee. When the Congress delegates were recently elected across the country in January this year, a person’s sense of loyalty to President Xi was required as a major qualification together with expertise and representability. Under these circumstances, the approval rate of 99.8 percent is almost an inevitable result.
In 2013, when Xi freshly came to power, not a few delegates voted against different bills at the National People’s Congress. Five hundred and nine delegates opposed the government’s budget bill, and 605 and 485 delegates voted “no” to the reports by the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate, respectively. Though there was no key issue such as constitutional amendment, one-fifths of delegates saying “no” to the bills was enough to create words that “the vote at the National People’s Congress had changed.” Yet, President Xi’s consolidation of power has made dissenting votes all disappear. It seems the National People’s Congress is called a “yes man” or “rubber-stamp” for a reason.