In a rare public expression of dissent in China, a well-known political commentator and a prominent businesswoman have penned open letters urging lawmakers to reject a plan that would allow President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely.
Their impassioned statements on a popular messaging app were circulated widely after the ruling Communist Party announced a proposal Sunday to scrap term limits on the president and vice president.
In a Monday statement on WeChat to Beijing's members of China's rubber-stamp parliament, Li Datong, a former editor for the state-run China Youth Daily, wrote that lifting term limits would "sow the seeds of chaos."
"If there are no term limits on a country's highest leader, then we are returning to an imperial regime," Li told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "My generation has lived through Mao. That era is over. How can we possibly go back to it?"
Wang Ying, a businesswoman who has advocated for government reforms, wrote on WeChat that the Communist Party's proposal was "an outright betrayal" and "against the tides."
"I know that you (the government) will dare to do anything," she wrote, "and one ordinary person's voice is certainly useless. But I am a Chinese citizen, and I don't plan on leaving. This is my motherland too!"
An official in the information department of the Standing Committee of the legislative body, the National People's Congress, said Tuesday that he was not aware of the open letters.
The congress is all but certain to pass the constitutional amendment when it meets for its annual session early next month, at which it will grant Xi a second five-year term and appoint new ministers and other government officials.
Under the 1982 constitution, the president is limited to two five-year terms in office, but Xi — already China's most powerful leader since Mao — appears to want additional terms to see through his agenda of fighting corruption, eliminating poverty and transforming China into a modern leading nation by midcentury.
Government and party spokesmen have yet to offer any detailed explanations on the reasoning and motivation behind the dropping of term limits. Nor is it clear whether Xi will seek to remain president for life or will only stay on for a set number of additional terms.
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Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Monday that the proposal "was made in accordance with new situation and the practice of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era."
In a commentary Tuesday, the official China Daily newspaper mentioned the proposal to strip out language in the constitution limiting the president and vice president to two five-year terms, saying it was "necessitated by the need to perfect the party and the state's leadership system."
While Chinese censors have moved swiftly to delete any satirical online commentary on the move, a range of opposition views continue to be shared. The Global Times, a newspaper published by the Communist Party, said "outside forces" were trying to challenge the party's leadership.