SHANGHAI (Reuters) - President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, will be re-elected to a second five-year term as president on Saturday by the rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress.
The son of Communist Party revolutionary and one-time deputy prime minister Xi Zhongxun, the younger Xi spent decades working his way up party and government ranks, but his consolidation of power since becoming head of the party in 2012 has been unprecedented.
Xi’s ascent culminated last week in parliament’s passing of a constitutional amendment that eliminated term limits for the presidency, discarding a rule that had helped keep leaders in check and underpinned collective decision-making for 35 years.
Following are some key dates in Xi’s life and rise to power:
June 15, 1953 - XI IS BORN
Xi Jinping is born in Beijing a “princeling” child of an official. His father, Xi Zhongxun, fought in the Communist revolution and later served as an official, rising to become a liberal-minded vice premier. The young Xi grew up among the party elite but saw his father purged and later jailed during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, only to be rehabilitated and allowed back into government after Mao’s death.
1974 - PARTY MAN
After being sent to work in the poverty-stricken countryside, in Shaanxi province, as a teenager during the Cultural Revolution, Xi joins the Communist Youth League and then, in 1974, the party, at the age of about 21.
Sept. 9, 1976 - MAO DIES
Mao Zedong, the “Great Helmsman”, dies at the age of 82. Xi is 23 and a chemical engineering student at Tsinghua University. China goes into mourning and Hua Guofeng, Mao’s handpicked successor, takes over. For a time, Hua is treated like Mao, but he is eventually sidelined by Deng Xiaoping who sets China on a more practical, less dogmatic, path.
Dec. 4, 1982 - TERM LIMITS INTRODUCED
The National People’s Congress adopts a new constitution that includes provisions that limit presidents and vice presidents to two five-year terms. The introduction of term limits was an attempt to prevent China from sliding back into strongman rule after Mao’s tumultuous 27-year reign.
Oct. 21, 2007 - ELITE COMMITTEE
Xi is promoted into the Politburo Standing Committee, the most elite political body, directly from the Central Committee, after stints in the government and party in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai. He and Li Keqiang, the current premier, are considered to be likely successors to then-president and party chief Hu Jintao. Xi also becomes a vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission.
March 15, 2008 - VICE PRESIDENT
The National People’s Congress elects Xi vice president.
Nov. 15, 2012 - TOP POSITIONS
Xi is named general secretary of the Communist Party, and also becomes chairman of the Central Military Commission. Holding the top positions in the party and military, Xi starts to maneuver to consolidate his power.
Dec. 2012 - ANTI-CORRUPTION SALVOS FIRED
Xi pledges to crack down on “tigers and flies” in the party and launches what is to become China’s most sweeping anti-corruption drive. The campaign becomes popular with the public but critics accuse Xi of using it to neutralize political opponents. Thousands of officials are punished for corruption or “discipline violations”, including former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang. Xi uses the campaign to clean out the senior ranks of the military.
March 14, 2013 - PRESIDENT
The National People’s Congress elects Xi president. While the presidency is the least powerful of Xi’s key roles, it is symbolically critical and provides Xi a platform on which he can promote China’s interests on the global stage.
Oct. 24, 2017 - ENSHRINED
The 19th Party Congress enshrines Xi’s political thinking - “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” - into the party’s constitution. Because Xi is still serving in office, this move is widely interpreted as placing him in the same company as the founder of modern China, Mao, and cementing his power. Xi’s signature “Belt and Road” initiative to invest trillions of yuan in trade links with central Asia and Europe was also included in the party constitution, lending it weight.
Oct. 25, 2017 - PARTY CHIEF AGAIN
Xi is handed a second term as general secretary of the party during the 19th Party Congress.
March 11, 2018 - END OF TERM LIMITS
The National People’s Congress votes nearly unanimously to abolish term limits for the presidency. There are two votes against, three abstentions and one invalid vote. The elimination of limits catches many by surprise and while delegates to parliament and official media say it reflects the “will of the people”, many privately express concern.
March 17, 2018 - SECOND TERM AS PRESIDENT
The National People’s Congress is due to elect Xi president for a second five-year term. Second terms have been the norm: Xi’s most recent predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, both served two terms.
At the October Party Congress, however, the party broke with tradition and installed no obvious successor to Xi in the Politburo Standing Committee. Analysts had speculated that Xi might anoint a successor during his second term as party chief and president. The elimination of term limits throws that into question.
Take a look at the Reuters Graphics timeline - The rise of Xi Jinping
Reporting and writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Robert Birsel