Xi Jinping has secured a precedent-breaking third five-year term as China’s president, a largely ceremonial role, putting him on track to remain in power for the rest of his life.
The nearly 3,000 members of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s largely ceremonial parliament, voted unanimously for Xi after the constitution was changed to remove the traditional two-term limit for the post.
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The NPC, whose members are appointed by the ruling Communist party, cast 2,952 votes for Xi over about an hour. No one voted against him.
No candidate lists were distributed, and Xi as well as those who secured 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 bright red boxes placed around the vast auditorium of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing where they meet.
Xi, was also unanimously named commander of the two million-member People’s Liberation Army.
“China’s politics has extended into the era of winner takes all,” Wen-Ti Sung, an expert in Chinese politics at the Australian National University, told Al Jazeera. “Xi Jinping is the biggest winner.”
Since taking power in 2012, 69-year-old Xi has sidelined any potential challengers and filled the party with his supporters, turning himself into China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
He had himself named for 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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday congratulated Xi, hailing the strengthening ties between the two countries.
“Dear friend, please accept sincere congratulations,” Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin. “Russia highly values your personal contribution toward the strengthening of ties … and strategic cooperation between our nations.”
Over the next two days, Xi-approved officials are set to be appointed or elected to fill top positions in the cabinet, including Li Qiang, who is expected to be named as premier – China’s No 2 post – putting him in charge of managing the world’s second largest economy.
Li was pictured shaking hands with Xi and smiling after the was confirmed as president. The two men, seated next to each other, also chatted casually as the voting process was underway.
In other NPC votes, 68-year-old Han Zheng was chosen as the new vice president while Zhao Leji, 66, was named the new parliament chair. Both men were from Xi’s previous team of party leaders at the Politburo Standing Committee.
The parliament is meeting just three months after China abruptly abandoned its signature zero-COVID policy triggering a wave of cases across the country.
A so-called ‘closed loop’ has been in place to shield the event against any outbreaks of the coronavirus and delegates and staff – except for dozens of top leaders – were all wearing masks.
Xi will make a speech on Monday – the final day of the annual parliamentary session – while Li will hold a press conference.
The country is dealing with the economic fallout from the zero-COVID policy and a tense relationship with the United States over issues including trade, human rights and China’s increasingly assertive claims on Taiwan and the South China Sea.