It seems the way is open for the Chinese President to remain in his position of power for just about as long as he likes. And in so doing, follows in the footsteps of Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Is this the age of strong men?
It’s a funny thing, you would have thought that in the age of the internet, and with the blockchain era approaching, which brings with it the prospects of online voting, the world would lurch towards more democracy, not less.
There is precedent. Back in the day, during the fifth century BC, Athens enjoyed just about the purest form of democracy ever invented - err, assuming you overlook the fact that neither slaves nor women could vote. It was a form of government that evolved, some argue its development was kicked off by a new innovation - the development of the military formation known as the phalanx, made the rank and file soldier more important; for military victory, ordinary folk were key, unlike in the days before when a few well armed aristocrats could turn a battle. But the Athenian experiment ended in disaster, madness of crowds set in, and the people of Athens voted for policies, such as embarking on a course of action that would inevitably lead to an unwinnable war against Sparta, which led to its own demise.
Almost 500 years later, a new system of government was tried in the super power of the day. Ancient Rome ditched a kind of half hearted democracy called The Republic in favour of having an absolute ruler - a strong man. And despite haveing a succession of deranged Caesars, the system held together for hundreds of years - one of the longest surviving empires in history.
Maybe those two different ways of doing things are being given another trial.
President Xi Jinping has consolidated his power in China after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
And the new Politburo Standing Committee, the committee that has all the power, consists of six men, plus Mr Xi, himself. All are over 60, all appear to be outright Xi supporters, not only is the Chinese leader’s position secure for another five years, given the age of any possible successor come the next Congress, it seems that the job of the most powerful man in China, and probably the world, is his for as long as he wants it.
It is usual practice for the Chinese president to only hold that position for two terms.
But then, under the Russian constitution set up after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian President was only supposed to hold that position for two terms. Mr Putin was President for two terms, then Prime Minister and is now President again, it seems the job is his for as long as he wants it too.
Meanwhile, in Turkey, the position of President is more ceremonial than practical - it’s the Prime Minister that calls the shots. It used to be the case that the President was politically neutral, was elected by parliament and could only hold the one, seven year term.
But under Turkey’s prime minister Erodogan, (Prime Minister from 2003 to 2014) that changed - the term was shortened to five years, but could be extended for a second term, the position was subject to a national vote (more like in the US) and was granted a lot more power. And guess who the President of Turkey has been since 2014, Erdogan, of course, his position stronger than ever after an attempted coup.
So, is that the way things are going - in the age when we call for greater gender equality, we get the rise of strong men presidents? What’s next, will the electorate that voted for Donald Trump countenance extending the office of the President of the United States to three terms? And if they do, who will the President be in 2025? Trump or maybe Obama?
Yet, maybe sting men leaders are only as strong as their successes. In Russia, Ksenia Sobchak, is trying to create a credible opposition, in China, Mr Xi’s future hinges on being able to pull off the trick off re-balancing China’s economy away from investment/export led to consumer led growth, at a time when local government and corporate debt brings back reminders of US subprime. If Mr Xi fails, his ultimate fate may be more like that suffered by Louis XVI of France and Charles I of Britain than Mao.
The Turkish economy sits under massive foreign debt.
And China must also remember the lesson of the Ming Dynasty, which supposedly destroyed its fleet over fears of free trade, retreating into itself, consequently relegated from the most powerful country in the world to pawn, passed between the new super powers.
That’s what happens when all the big decisions are centralised and subject to the moods and whims of a absolute ruler - it ends in tears for the ruling regime, but only after the people it represents suffer something far worse.
Meanwhile, might blockchain enable the creation in sine countries of a form of democracy akin to that seen in Ancient Athens.