BEIJING -- China's rubber-stamp lawmakers on Sunday passed a historic constitutional amendment abolishing a presidential two-term limit that will enable Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely.
The amendment upends a system enacted by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to prevent a return to the bloody excesses of a lifelong dictatorship typified by Mao Zedong's chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
"This marks the biggest regression in China's legal system since the reform and opening-up era of the 1980s," said Zhang Lifan, an independent Beijing-based political commentator.
"I'm afraid that this will all be written into our history in the future," Zhang said.
Voting among the National People's Congress' nearly 3,000 hand-picked delegates began in the mid-afternoon, with Xi leading members of the Communist Party's seven-member all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in casting their votes. He placed his orange ballot paper in a red box bearing the official seal of state placed front and center on the stage inside the cavernous hall.
Shortly after 3:50 p.m., the results were read out over the public address system and flashed briefly on a screen in the hall. The delegates voted 2,958 in favor, with two opposed, three abstaining and one vote invalidated.
"The constitutional amendment item has passed," the announcer declared to polite applause.
The 64-year-old Xi appeared to show little emotion, remaining in his seat with other deputies to listen to a report on the work of the congress delivered by its outgoing chairman.
The slide toward one-man rule under Xi has fueled concern that Beijing is eroding efforts to guard against the excesses of autocratic leadership, and make economic regulation more stable and predictable.