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Bitter wrangling behind the scenes over China's power transition

Publication Date : 08-11-2012


China's new leaders will be unveiled next Thursday, ending months of intense jostling for positions in the top council of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The 18th Party Congress, which starts today, will end on Wednesday, the political meeting's spokesman Cai Mingzhao said yesterday.

As per tradition, the new leadership will meet the media and the world the day after the closing at the Great Hall of the People here.

But the line-up to replace the retiring team led by President Hu Jintao remains a mystery.

Wrangling among rival factions of elders, princelings and apparatchiks is believed to be bitter, said analysts.

"The Chinese leadership succession is in a transitional period marked by the absence of one strong leader who is capable of coordinating, persuading, and managing the collective opinion of the elite to come up with a final candidates' list," said China expert Tan Qingshan from Cleveland State University.

Several lists of the new team have been circulating online, all purporting to be from sources deep within the CCP and to be unique and true.

Among the compilers of these lists, there is not even an agreement on the size of the new Politburo Standing Committee.

While many say that its size will be slashed from the current nine seats to seven, others argue the status quo will remain.

Its composition has invited even more speculation. Only Vice-President Xi Jinping and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang are confirmed entries.

Xi was appointed secretary general of the 18th Congress, a further sign he will succeed Hu as party chief.

Among previous hot favourites rumoured to be dropped is personnel chief Li Yuanchao, after he was said to have botched up an internal straw poll.

The uncertainty over the remaining seats has raised talk that the CCP could hold a competitive election at the top for the first time.

Some eight candidates would be vying for five or seven seats and chosen by the 350-odd Central Committee members, reported overseas Chinese websites.

The wildly contradicting stories reflect an "enhanced level of infighting among the top leaders", said analyst Zhang Jian from Peking University.

Among the struggles is whether Hu will remain leader of the military or retire completely.

There is no consensus in the frenzied rumour mill of Beijing.

A repeat of the 16th Congress in 2002 cannot be ruled out. On the last day of that meeting, 20 People's Liberation Army members submitted a "special motion" to request then-President Jiang Zemin to stay on as military chief.

But at least it seems clear that Hu's signature ideology of "scientific development" will be promoted to become a guiding thought in the party Constitution.

Cai, the spokesman, hinted at that yesterday, saying that the party will "further elaborate" on the ideology at the congress.

He also suggested that rampant recent talk that Mao Zedong Thought would be taken out of the charter is untrue, by citing it as a guide in any constitutional amendments.

The rumour has been part of a messy backroom battle of proxies and patronage, leading some to liken the political theatre to Hong Kong police film Cold War, which also opens in China today.

The Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung blockbuster thrills with unexpected turns and conspiracies, but the most powerful men of this country seem determined to prove that communist politics are more exciting than celluloid plots.

"For insiders, the jockeying is definitely painful and may be nerve-racking," said Professor Zhang.

But for observers and the public, the party congress "is a bad show with too many prequels".


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