BEIJING, March 10 (Reuters) – Xi Jinping on Friday secured a precedent-breaking third five-year term as China’s president as he tightens his grip as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
Nearly 3,000 members of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), voted unanimously in the Great Hall of the People for Xi, 69, to be president in an election where there was no other candidate.
The voting lasted for about an hour and the electronic counting was completed in about 15 minutes.
The stage was set for another Xi term when he did away with presidential term limits in 2018. His power was already extended last October when he was reconfirmed for another five years as general secretary of the central committee of the ruling Communist Party.
Over the next two days, officials approved by Xi are set to be appointed or elected to fill top positions in the cabinet, including premier-in-waiting Li Qiang, who is expected to be named to China’s No.2 post, putting him in charge of managing the world’s second largest economy.
Xi chatted casually with Li, who was seated to his left, as delegates deposited voting slips into electronic ballot boxes.
The election of state leaders by the parliament comes three months after tough COVID-19 policies were dismantled and a new wave of infections caused by the highly transmissible Omicron strain rippled across the country. Except for dozens of top leaders, all other delegates and staff wore masks.
Xi will make a speech on Monday before the annual parliamentary session closes, as China faces multiple challenges including an economy hobbled by three years of COVID curbs and worsening relations with the West.
Earlier this week, Xi blamed the United States and the West for the difficulties faced by China’s economy, remarks unusual from him for being directly at Washington.
While the presidential role is largely ceremonial, Xi had already been re-elected by the party to chair its central military commission and has started his third five-year term as the Chinese armed forces commander-in-chief.
The parliament also elected Zhao Leji, 66, as the new parliament chair and Han Zheng, 68, as the new vice president. Both men were from Xi’s previous team of party leaders at the Politburo Standing Committee.