China's President Xi Jinping could rule for life as term limits are scrapped

Almost 3,000 hand-picked delegates overwhelmingly endorsed the change

China's President Xi Jinping could rule for life as term limits are scrapped

File photo shows Chinese President Xi Jinping clapping during a plenary session of China's National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing | Image: Aijaz Rahi/AP/Press Association Images

China has abolished the limit on how long its leader can serve, meaning President Xi Jinping could now rule the country indefinitely.

Almost 3,000 hand-picked delegates at the National People's Congress overwhelmingly endorsed the constitutional change, with 2,958 voting in favour.

There were two votes against, three abstentions and one ballot was invalid.

The amendment overhauls a system introduced by former leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982, which was introduced with the aim of preventing a repeat of the bloody reign of Mao Zedong.

Until now, presidents had been limited to two consecutive terms.

As voting got under way, President Xi led members of the seven-member all-powerful Politurbo Standing Committee in casting their ballots.

He put his orange ballot paper in a red box bearing the official seal of state, which was placed front and centre on the stage inside the large hall.

Chinese President Xi Jinping casts his vote for an amendment to China's constitution that will abolish term limits on the presidency | Image: Andy Wong/AP/Press Association Images

Deputies then rose to vote on the floor of the hall, with the process ending 10 minutes later.

After being counted, the results were read out over the public address system and flashed on a screen in the hall.

"The constitutional amendment item has passed," the announcer declared to polite applause.

President Xi seemed to show little emotion as the news was announced, choosing to stay in his seat with other deputies to listen to a report on the work of the congress delivered by its outgoing chairman.

While Mr Xi is broadly popular, the move has sparked concerns it will leave him with too much power.

And in a sign of the sensitivity surrounding the issue, China has launched a social media crackdown - with expressions ranging from "I disagree" to "Xi Zedong" banned.

Despite the prospect of official retaliation, a number of prominent Chinese figures have also publicly protested against the move.

A spokesman for the legislature said abolishing the term limit is only aimed at bringing the presidency in line with Mr Xi's other positions in the ruling Communist Party and the Central Military Commission, which do not impose term limits.