Unseemly social media speculation in China suggests many Chinese believe President Xi Jinping is likely to step down from power.
The rumors started appearing after a meeting of the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, which is the apex body when it comes to policy decisions.
The social media users believe that Xi Jinping's draconian policies to fight a late surge in coronavirus cases have triggered a backlash against him inside the collective leadership group that governs the country.
Speculation about Xi's removal from power has been an unthinkable stretch until recently. In March 2018, China approved constitutional changes that effectively allowed Xi to remain in power for life. In a landmark move, the National People's Congress approved a resolution that sought to remove the two-term limit on the presidency, which was in place since the 1990s.
While 2,964 delegates to the annual Congress supported the move, only two voted against it, suggesting how invasive and complete the popularity of Xi has been. China also recently adopted what it calls the Xi School of thought, bestowing on the president the kind of adulation received by Mao Zedung, the republic's founder. The Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era' is to be taught in schools and universities across the country.
The recent chatter on Xi's stepping down appears surreal in this context. According to the Washington Times, the rumor was traced to a Chinese-language YouTube video made by a Canada-based blogger. The blogger, who called themselves 'Lao Deng' said the president could step down after the Covid-19 lockdowns in Shanghai and other large cities backfired.
Though the video became viral China's censors clamped down on it.
The Times further reported: "The blogger, citing what he said was a senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) security source, said a "coup" was launched against Mr. Xi at the meeting of senior party leaders in Beijing. According to blog, Mr. Xi was forced to step aside but will stay in place until a major party meeting later this year."
Xi's Health Under Scrutiny
Earlier in the week there was intense scrutiny of Xi Jinping's health. It was revealed that the Chinese President was suffering from a brain aneurysm.
Citing media reports, the Asian News International said Xi had to be hospitalized at the end of 2021. The report stated that Xi underwent treatment using traditional Chinese medicines and opted out of surgery.
The report was in line with speculations on Xi's health in recent times. The president had skipped meeting foreign leaders ever since the coronavirus pandemic broke in China more than two years ago. He remained highly cautious until the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Also, the way he walked during a trip to Italy in March 2019 had triggered speculations about his ill-health. Later that year, Xi again displayed frailty during his France visit, where he sought assistance while sitting down. The report also says that a public session in Shenzhen in October 2020 betrayed his ill-health again. This time he was seen coughing repeatedly while the speech slowed significantly.
In October 2021, the New York Times reported that Xi had not travelled outside China for a long 21 months. The president also had not met US President Joe Biden even months after the latter's inauguration.