Unprecedented resignation demand risks Xi’s and CCP’s future

Xi Jinping appears to have become the first Chinese President to be asked by people to step down. People across China are holding protests on the streets, demanding Xi to resign for his strict anti-Covid measures. At the same time, calls are being made for an end to the one-party rule of the Communist Party of China. Slogans like “Step down, Xi Jinping! Step down, Communist Party!” and “We don’t want lifelong rulers. We don’t want emperors” are raised during the protests.

Xi’s continuous efforts to get a strong grip on the communist party, the government and the Chinese people now seem to be backfiring. And the main catalyst for fueling the public dissent is the mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. People claim the anti-virus measures under Xi’s Zero Covid policy, which is being implemented forcefully, not just failed to contain the pandemic but have ended up harming their freedom, health, and livelihood. The ongoing protests are unprecedented since the Chinese people have directly challenged the seven-decade rule of the communist party while rebuking Xi.

China is witnessing such a kind of protest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident when thousands of people held a protest for democratic rights. This is extraordinary in the wake of Xi being touted as the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong after he was reelected for the third time. The protests show people have defied the fear of retaliation by Chinese authorities, which played a crucial role in suppressing dissent so far.

Under Xi’s rule, all kinds of dissents were eliminated using harsh crackdowns. Activists, authors, intellectuals, and even political leaders were silenced through punitive actions. The formidable power Xi wielded led people to keep quiet even though they were subjected to conditions that hurt their basic rights. Chinese people even chose not to criticize Xi openly on social media platforms, fearing sensors and surveillance.

Xi even did not face any opposition when he tweaked the Chinese constitution, paving a way for him to remain ‘president for life’. The speeches Xi made and resolutions the communist party passed in the recent past showed Xi tried to portray himself bigger than Mao. All these cause no dissent or even criticism in China. In such a scenario, now people openly demanding Xi’s resignation is extraordinary and can lead to a political coup.

It can also facilitate possible changes in China’s authoritarian governance style, which is long resented by Chinese people. At Beijing’s Tsinghua University, students protested against Xi and the communist party government. “Democracy and the rule of law, freedom of expression!” they shouted. Similar protests are held across Chinese cities including Shanghai, Wuhan, Urumqi, Chengdu, and Guangzhou. “We don’t want lies; we want respect! We don’t want a leader; we want a voting ballot,” said a women protestor in Shanghai.

“Opposition to dictatorship!” protestors chanted the slogan.6 The widespread public protests are building pressure on Xi and the communist party to respond. The most likely response is repression by means of arrests and prosecution of protestors.7 However, residents are coming in support of the protestors who are being detained or arrested by police.8 “Release them,” said people while confronting police when protestors are taken away.

People are encouraged to join or support the protest. “We Chinese need to be braver. Somany of us were arrested yesterday. Are they without job or without family? We should not be afraid!” a protestor was seen saying in a viral video.9 While there are onlookers who do not participate in the agitation openly, they appear to be in support of the ongoing protests.“ We have families, we have jobs, we don’t dare to step forward. But at least we know what is right, and we know who we should support,” said a woman in Shanghai. “Watching is a kind of support.”

Removing photos and videos of the protests is the immediate response of the Xi government. However, it is unlikely to go for a crackdown as it could worsen the situation and thus risk sparking nationwide agitations. Several reports are making rounds that the ongoing situation in China can lead to a political coup, mounted by the top communist leaders and rivals of Xi.