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Power struggles make picking China's next leaders daunting

Publication Date : 31-10-2012


More than 350 top cadres of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will gather for the seventh and last time tomorrow to finalise the leadership succession plan to be adopted at the 18th Party Congress, which opens next Thursday.

The plenum, as the gathering is called, will have a daunting task, given the short time it has.

Over the next few days, it will pick the select few who will sit on the CCP's powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), which essentially rules China.

Besides the PSC, the plenum will also have to finalise the line- up of the Politburo, which is a rung below the PSC, and the Central Secretariat.

At the same time, it will need to vet the members of the next Central Committee, which is the highest authority within the CCP, to make sure they do not include those who are sympathisers of disgraced former Chongqing chief Bo Xilai.

The final make-up of the PSC has yet to be settled, owing to the fierce jostling for power between the princelings and the tuanpai, or those with ties to the Communist Youth League (CYL), which is President Hu Jintao's power base.

No fewer than six name lists have been proposed, reflecting the intense competition. There are 10 candidates in the running for the seven PSC seats, reduced from the current nine.

The last seat is apparently the target of a fierce tussle involving three regional party chiefs: Wang Yang of Guangdong (CYL), Yu Zhengsheng of Shanghai (princeling), and Zhang Gaoli of Tianjin (a protege of former president Jiang Zemin).

Given this situation, where there are 10 candidates for only seven seats, China's next top leader Xi Jinping is said to have suggested using differential voting to determine the final seven. This means that of the 10, the seven with the highest number of votes will get into the PSC.

Such a voting method is unprecedented. Previous line-ups, for the PSC and the 25-member Politburo, were agreed on by "consensus", which in effect means members falling in line with a powerful figure's decision.

Advocates of political reform have long wanted differential voting to be introduced for the PSC.

It is now about to happen, ironically not because of any conscious effort on the part of the leadership to reform the system, but because of its failure to reach a consensus.

This points to three developments.

First, in the post-Deng Xiaoping era, there is no longer a CCP "strongman" who can hold the centre or break a deadlock between princelings and tuanpai.

Second, Hu's tuanpai have finally come of age. When Hu took over as CCP chief at the 16th Party Congress in 2002, his faction did not have enough clout to negotiate for more seats in the PSC, which was then dominated by Jiang's men. Since then, the tuanpai have become more assertive, and Hu has been able to put his own men in top jobs.

Third, the Bo Xilai scandal has inadvertently dealt a major blow to both the princelings and Jiang. Bo, a princeling who enjoyed Jiang's patronage at one time, is widely expected to be charged with a litany of crimes.

His alleged attempt to unseat Xi forced the latter to enter into an alliance with Hu. His hand strengthened, Hu was able to arm twist Xi into letting him stay on as chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission for presumably two more years.

Another difficult task for the plenary session will be to weed out Bo's residual influence. The pro-Bo bloc has already openly challenged the right of Parliament to strip Bo of his delegate status, thereby depriving him of his legal immunity.

Some Bo sympathisers have even gone as far as mounting mudslinging campaigns against Xi and Premier Wen Jiabao, accusing their families of amassing huge personal fortunes.

At the same time, the plenary session will have to endorse the Central Disciplinary Committee's earlier decision to expel Bo from the party and initiate legal proceedings against him. It will also have to make sure Bo sympathisers are shut out from the next Central Committee.

Finally, the plenary session is expected to adopt a decision that will see Hu's Scientific Development View enshrined in the party's Constitution as one of the ruling theories of China, together with Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and Jiang Zemin's Three Represents.


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