China’s President Xi Jinping is expected to become arguably the country’s most powerful leader since its founding father Mao Zedong – as he looks set for not just a third term at the helm, but to also be accorded the formal title of “People’s Leader”.
The title has been used widely in state media and by officials to refer to Mr Xi in the run-up to the 20th Communist Party Congress, noted analysts who anticipate the development.
With amendments to the party constitution on the agenda during the congress, analysts believe the title could be formalised by including it in revisions to the charter.
It would be a clear sign of the Chinese leader’s consolidation of power in the last decade, and a rare move in the post-1978 reform era.
HISTORIC PEACETIME MOVE
The term “leader” has only ever been formally used for the late Mao, and his successor Hua Guofeng who held power briefly.
Mao, who ruled till his death in 1976, received such a status in the Communist Party due to his achievements and leadership during the revolutionary wars, said Dr Chen Gang, assistant director of policy research at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore (NUS).
For Mr Xi to secure such a title during peacetime is therefore significant, he said.
“This indicates that some of his achievements, at least from the party’s perspective, like common prosperity, environmental protection, and the anti-corruption campaign shows that actually the party confirms his contribution to the party and that’s one of the reasons he can secure a third term and the title of ‘People’s Leader’,” said Dr Chen.
THE INFLUENCE OF XI
The title signals Mr Xi’s position not just within the party, but in the entire history of the People’s Republic of China, said Associate Professor Alfred Wu from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS.
“He actually could utilise this title to run the country for many decades,” said Assoc Prof Wu, adding that it is more all-encompassing than the titles of general secretary of the Communist Party or President of China, which are tied to institutions.
Congress spokesperson Sun Yeli said that amendments to the party’s constitution would “incorporate the major theoretical views and strategic thinking” in the last five years, and that the move has received widespread support from the Party.