Process of selecting the next Central Committee begins

The Communist Party of China (CPC) on Sunday began the process of selecting its new leadership, bringing attention to the secretive jockeying for positions in the Party’s highest bodies.

The 2,300 or so delegates of the CPC’s 18th National Congress, which opened on November 8, were given a list of nominees to the Party’s next Central Committee on Sunday.

Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over from General Secretary Hu Jintao after the Congress, briefed the presidium of the Congress — a body comprising top Party officials and still influential retired leaders — on the list of candidates.

The selection of the Central Committee will take place by secret ballot cast by 2,325 delegates. However, the list of candidates and the process of nomination is shrouded in secrecy and seen as the result of bargaining between different Party factions.

Cai Mingzhao, the Deputy Director of the CPC’s Propaganda Department and a spokesperson for the Congress, suggested that the next Central Committee — the current body is comprised of around 200 members and 167 alternates — will be selected from at least 400 candidates through secret ballot. At the previous party congress, the total number of nominated candidates exceeded the number of available posts by 8.3 per cent. This year, Mr. Cai said, the number of candidates would be higher, part of a move to make the election more competitive.

Tougher task

After the Central Committee is selected, its members will have the more difficult task of choosing the 25-member Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), the elite inner circle and the Party’s highest authority. The line-up of new leaders is expected to be unveiled on November 15, the day after the closing of the Congress.

A proposal to reduce the size of the nine-member PBSC to seven is being considered at the Congress. Only two members of the current PBSC — Mr. Xi and Vice Premier Li Keqiang — will retain their posts.

According to two Chinese journalists with Party ties, the composition of the PBSC has more or less begun to take shape. Of the five remaining slots, four are expected to be filled by leaders with close ties to former President Jiang Zemin, according to an early provisional list.

These include Chongqing Party Secretary Zhang Dejiang; Tianjin Party Secretary Zhang Gaoli; Shanghai Party chief Yu Zhengsheng; and Vice-Premier in charge of economic affairs Wang Qishan. All four leaders rose under Mr. Jiang. Also, they are all considered as “princelings” — the children or family of influential former Party leaders.

Mr. Hu, in his opening address to the Party Congress on Thursday, called on the delegates to “appoint officials on their merits without regard to their origins”. He added that officials should be selected “on the basis of both their moral integrity and their professional competence with priority given to the former” and that the Party should “promote officials who are outstanding in performance and enjoy popular support”.

The other spot on the PBSC is likely to be occupied either by Li Yuanchao, who heads the Party’s Organisation Department; or Liu Yunshan, a senior propaganda official. Both leaders rose through the Communist Youth League and have ties to Mr. Hu.

The Central Committee has, in the past, been chosen through secret ballot; however, the compositions of the Politburo and PBSC have largely been the result of backroom bargaining between competing interest groups. While there have been recent calls to introduce secret ballots for choosing the PBSC, it is unclear if voting for the top positions would be introduced at the ongoing party congress.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that an internal party poll was conducted in May among current Central Committee members. The newspaper said several officials close to Mr. Hu, such as Mr. Li Yuanchao and the Guangdong Party Secretary Wang Yang – who analysts say is unlikely to secure a position on the top body at this congress – fared well in the poll. The report suggested that a secret ballot, if held, would be a method favourable for the allies of outgoing General Secretary Mr. Hu, and would change the likely composition of the inner circle of leaders who will lead China for the next five years.

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