《新華社》在上月底公布《中共中央關於修改憲法部分內容的建議》，當中涉及多個具爭議性的重要修憲建議，而最觸目的無疑是取消國家主席的任期限制。中國現行的《八二憲法》是在文化大革命後，經過「全黨深入反思」所制定的。是此修憲不單不符民主精神，更與《八二憲法》的精神有所違背，反而推使中國進一步走向「黨管一切」，甚至習近平個人的集權。修憲建議將於昨天開幕的全國人大中審議，普遍預料將獲得通過。修憲一旦通過不單是中國政治改革的一大倒退，對中國長遠發展也帶來巨大的危機。是此 Snapshot 將列出修憲的四個主要建議和其對中國政局的影響。
Xinhua News Agency announced ‘Central Committee of the Communist Party of China suggestions of changes to the Constitution’ at the end of last month. Many of the suggestions proved controversial; the one about removing the presidential term limit particularly attracted international attention. The 1982 Constitution China has now is established after the Cultural Revolution, a product of the collective reflection of the Party. The amendments to the Constitution proposed recently are not solely undemocratic, because it is a big step towards consolidating Xi Jinping’s personalistic rule; but they also betray the spirit of the 1982 Constitution. The proposed amendments to the Constitution will be discussed in the National People’s Congress which was inaugurated yesterday (5th March 2018), and it is widely predicted that the amendments will pass without much difficulty. The amendments to the Constitution constitute not only a big step backwards for China’s political reforms, but also a threat to China’s long-term development. This Snapshot will outline the four main proposed amendments and how they will affect the political landscape in China.
【Removing presidential term limit】
The 1982 Constitution stipulates that the length of a term of presidency is five years, and the President can only serve two terms at most. This term limit is seen as one of Deng Xiaoping’s most important legacies. The removal of presidential term limit means that Xi can potentially serve for life as the President. The Party has two explanations for this proposed amendments. Firstly, the positions of General Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Party, positions conventionally served by the President and the real sources of power for the largely ceremonial role of the President, do not have any term limits. Secondly, as the Vice Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress explained, every level of the Party has been consulted in the process, and the proposed amendment is the consensus.
Regardless of whether the explanations are credible, internet users in China reacted with shock and disagreement to the news. Search terms such as ‘Emperor’, ‘For life’, ‘Shameless’ and ‘Emigration’ are censored. An article titled ‘Why I want to become the Emperor: interview with Yuan Shikai’ went viral on the internet. With its obvious meaning of mockery, it was soon removed from the internet. However, what shocked academics is the utter disregard for the legacies of Deng Xiaoping Xi has shown. Since Xi rose to power, he failed to follow the principle of ‘collective leadership’. Using the name of anti-corruption, Sun Zhengcai, the alleged successor to Xi, was arrested. Except that Wang Qishan is rumoured to be the next Vice President, Xi did not name any successors, breaking the tacit rule of ‘seven up eight down’, which is that a member of the Politburo stays when he is 67 years old, and resigns when he is 68. Deng Xiaoping’s thoughts are becoming merely meaningless words on the Constitution.
The rationale behind the presidential term limit in the 1982 Constitution is to prevent China from returning to the personalistic rule of Mao, the era of Cultural Revolution. Now that the only legal protection against that is gone, the future of China is extremely worrying. Although some academics argue that enabling the President to serve more terms will increase the consistency of policies and direction of development, but others have argued that this is the beginning of the ‘Post-Mao era’, where nepotism and ineptitude thrive, and policies die.
【Xi Jinping’s Thought adopted by the Constitution】
The Chinese Constitution lists the philosophies of leaders from Mao Zedong to Jiang Zemin as China’s guiding thoughts. As predicted, as ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era has already been added to Party Constitution in the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China’, it is proposed to be added to the Constitution along with Hu Jintao’s ‘Scientific Outlook on Development’. The Second Conference of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China this January produced an announcement to explain the reasons behind the amendment--“Major theoretical achievements, principles and policies adopted at the 19th CPC National Congress, especially Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, should be incorporated into a revision to the Constitution. New achievements, experiences and requirements of the development of the Party and nation should be embodied in the revised Constitution.”
If the amendment is passed, Xi will become the first leader after Mao who proposes to add his political thought into the constitution. Some commentators point out that although the content of Xi Jinping Thought is not clear, the fact that Xi is adding his name and political thought into the Constitution demonstrates that he wishes to consolidate his position within and outside the Party, and raise it to be on a par with previous leaders, including Mao and Deng.
Although Xi does not have an equivalent of the Little Red Book, but books about his philosophy are seen and sold everywhere. Slogans of all levels of officials, organisations and students’ education curricula are centred around Xi’s thought. The enshrinement of Xi Jinping Thought in the Constitution is no doubt a step towards a cult of personality. Although an analogy cannot be drawn between the current situation and the Cultural Revolution, Xi’s move can threaten a healthy political regime and civil society in the long run.
【Refirming one-party rule】
A clause is proposed to be added to Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution, ‘The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the quintessential characteristic of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’. During the Mao era, the Constitution establishes the rule of Communist Party in numerous instances. It even stipulates that it is a citizen’s basic right and duty to support the leadership of the Party. After the Cultural Revolution, the 1982 Constitution is stripped of many of those references, except stating that the Communist Party is the ruling party.
This amendment is again a regression, reversing Deng’s and especially Zhao Ziyang’s political reforms to separate the state and the party during their times in power. Former Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Wang Qishan made the statement two years ago that ‘Under the leadership of the Party, there is only a distribution of labour between the party and the state, not a separation.’ In announcing the passing of the ‘Plans to Deepen the Reform of the Party and the Government Institutions’, the National People’s Congress pointed out that the primary mission in deepening the reforms of the Party and the government institutions is to maintain the all-round leadership of the Party, thus strengthening the leadership of the Party. Quoting BBC China, this reform proposal is in fact an anti-reform proposal. Its conservatism runs counter to the principles of reform established in the 11th National People’s Congress. The narrative adopted by the 13th National People’s Congress not only reaffirms the leadership position of the Party, it also emphasises the significance of party in all areas and levels in society, overshadowing individual liberties.
【Establishing National Supervision Commission of the People's Republic of China】
The proposed National Supervision Committee shares the same legal status as the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate. The aim of the Committee is to coordinate and expand the anti-corruption efforts. The main institution that deals with corruption currently is the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. However, it is only a party institution, so its jurisdiction does not extend to officials that are not Party members. This reform combine government agencies that already handle corruption cases, including the Ministry of Supervision, the anti-corruption unit of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, Anti-misfeasance unit and the National Audit Office.
The positives of this reform are that anti-corruption efforts can be combined and strengthened, given that their area of jurisdiction will be expanded to encompass all officials. This will further discourage the culture of corruption. However, the worrying side of the reform is that the Communist Party’s grip on the lives of citizens will be firmer, and the sheer power possessed by the Committee paralleled by only few other institutions can potentially damage the rule of law. The Minister of Supervision Yang Xiaodu did not deny earlier that the Committee will be under the leadership of the Party. He stated that the Committee will report directly to the Central Committee of the Party, led and monitored by the Party, demonstrating the all-round leadership that the Party has. This reform means that individuals that are not members of the Party including the board members of enterprises owned by the state, even the members of political organisations, will fall under the area of jurisdiction of anti-corruption efforts. Also, the committee possesses a lot of power, from interrogation, asset freezing, to searching and detainment. Although the exact powers possessed by the Committee have yet to be announced, the provisional Committee has the right to detain a suspect for up to six months, and the right to interrogate judges and prosecutors. This move is a betrayal of the spirit of rule of law, and a threat to the rights of private individuals.