Will China Be Forced to Change Its Secretive Leadership Process? (+Video)

By Ford, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, November 5, 2012 | Go to article overview

Will China Be Forced to Change Its Secretive Leadership Process? (+Video)


Ford, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor


Never again, after this weeks party congress, will Chinas ruling Communist Party select its top members through the secretive, confusing, and mistrustful conversations in smoky back rooms that have led to such disarray this year.

That is the view of Chinese analysts familiar with the inner workings of the party, who say that as proliferating interest groups complicate leadership transitions, party members are increasingly angry at being left out of the leadership selection process.

Just days before the 18th Party Congress opens on Thursday at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, the most important political meeting for a decade, varied rumors continue to swirl over just who will be named to the Communist Partys top policymaking body, the Politburo Standing Committee. It is not even certain how many members the body will have.

The unprecedented confusion indicates that the highly chaotic, black box negotiating process carries high costs, is highly uncertain, and is very violent, says Wu Qiang, who teaches politics at Beijings Tsinghua University. They cannot go on like this.

There was a time when outgoing Chinese leaders were strong enough to name their successors, and that was an end to any discussion. Mao Zedong named the man who took over after his death, and later, Supreme leader Deng Xiaoping had the authority to choose not only his own successor, but the man who succeeded that successor the now- outgoing General Secretary Hu Jintao.

In todays China, however, where the Standing Committee has come to rule mainly by consensus, no individual has such power.

Deng was the last one with absolute legitimacy because of his role in the revolution, says Michel Bonnin, a China expert at the French School for Advanced Social Science Studies. Today, there is no one like him.

Behind closed doors

But the party has not developed any other convincing manner of choosing leaders and endowing them with legitimacy. There is no voting, and no rule-based way of measuring popular opinion in the party, points out Zhang Jian, a politics professor at Peking University. If you dont have a strongman or democracy, you are in a mess. Anybody can compete.

Xi Jinping, almost certain to take the top job from Mr. Hu at the end of the weeklong congress, emerged from negotiations among rival factions five years ago, but has little personal authority yet. Only one other man is staying on the Standing Committee, Li Keqiang, expected to be named premier.

Battles for the remaining five or seven places are still said to be raging behind closed doors, complicated by the fallout from the unprecedented public challenge to the party leadership that Bo Xilai mounted before he was brought down and expelled from the party. He is now awaiting trial, accused of corruption and involvement in a murder for which his wife is already serving a jail term.

But Mr. Bos fate, and the fate of those close to him, is not the only complicating factor this year, says Wang Zhengxu, deputy director of the China Policy Institute at Nottingham University in Britain.

There is a much more diverse range of regional and policy preferences at stake, as different economic and social interest groups fight for representation at the partys highest levels, says Professor Wang. …

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