Tue, Mar 27, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Xi is more authoritarian than Putin

By Yu Jie 余杰

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been re-elected as leaders of their countries. Despite differences in the format of the elections, the results were essentially the same, and in both cases, Western leaders were less than effusive in their reactions.

The two leaders congratulated each other on the news of their re-election, which came as little surprise, as the two are cut from the same cloth.

At the same time, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that, as with Xi’s first visit overseas after his initial ascension to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary and national leader, his first visit this time around would again be to Russia. Russia has also said that Putin will visit China this year.

Since 1993, Chinese leaders have [mostly] simultaneously held the trio of positions of general secretary of the CCP, chairman of the Central Military Commission and president.

Xi is the first leader since that time to be elected president with no opposing votes: Over the past 25 years, during the four elections of his two predecessors — former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) — a nominal number of symbolic votes, no more than 36 at one time, were cast against the candidate and abstentions recorded.

That Xi was unwilling to countenance even symbolic votes against his candidacy does not mean that he is more popular than either Jiang or Hu, or that he is seen as a more capable leader; it merely demonstrates that he intends to rule with an iron hand, allowing no dissent, and that his control extends deep into every aspect of voting by the “people’s representatives.”

Xi’s unblemished ballot is something even the CCP’s hallowed godfather himself, Mao Zedong (毛澤東), would have to concede on.

In September 1949, when the CCP was electing the chairman of its National Political Consultative Conference, Mao received 575 votes, one short of the total 576. While it was widely assumed at the time that Mao had voted against himself as an expression of humility, it turned out that he had cast his vote for himself. He managed to turn it to his advantage, saying that one vote short was still one vote short and that he had to respect the right of the person to vote against him.

That is not to say that he did not seek out the culprit, who it was later discovered was China Democratic League secretary-general Zhang Dongsun (張東蓀). In 1951, Zhang was stripped of all his duties for his involvement in a scandal involving leaking of information to the US and he spent his last days in Qincheng Prison.

Zhang’s story was sure to have been playing on the minds of the “people’s representatives” on the eve of this month’s vote. Why would they not heed the lessons of the past?

Xi also had something entirely unprecedented arranged for the occasion: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army honor guard marched into the Great Hall of the People during the oath of allegiance to the Chinese constitution. Faced with this kind of “persuasion,” why would the rather well-to-do “people’s representatives” not cast a safe vote?

Putin has managed to stay in power by extending the presidential term from four years to six and swapping places for one term with his prime minister. However, he did not dare to go as far as to amend the Russian constitution to abolish presidential term limits, nor did he, in a country where public trust in the fairness of general elections is already low, think to make it look like he received 100 percent of the vote.

This story has been viewed 4789 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top