It may have looked no different from the past few years' gatherings — with its rows of suited men and perfectly draped red curtains — but this year's National People's Congress delivered one of the most significant shifts in Chinese politics this century.
After casting his own ballot, a visibly relaxed Xi Jinping looked on as the annual meeting of China's rubber-stamp parliament voted to abolish a two-term limit on the presidency, effectively paving the way for the 64-year old leader to enjoy unchecked rule for life, NBC News reported.
The historic vote was a formality and its result unequivocal: 99.8 percent of the 3,000 delegates voted in favor of amending the constitution. Only two delegates voted against and three abstained.
That China is officially stepping into a new era of totalitarianism came as a shock to the 1.4 billion people whose fates are now irrevocably tied to one man. An early sign of public discomfort showed in the hours after the news was announced last month when Baidu, China's version of Google, showed a spike in searches for the term "emigration." Then censors swooped in. The following day, the term was no longer available to search; also restricted were "tenure," "constitution," and several others deemed too sensitive or too critical.