The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will hold its 18th National Congress this fall as part of its one-in-a-decade change in party leadership. However, just when it will do so remains a major question; no one outside the inner circle seems to know or is willing to say. At a press conference earlier this week, the deputy head of the CCP’s Organization Department, Wang Jingqing (王京清), could only say that it was planned for the second half of the year.
Such secrecy is a reminder of the opaqueness that surrounds and shrouds the workings of both the party and the Chinese government. The world knows there will be a party congress. It knows that Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) will be handing over the reins of the party ahead of his stepping down from the presidency early next year. It is clear that his heir apparent is Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平). About the only thing that can be said with conviction about the CCP congress is that it will be held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Now compare and contrast the Chinese secrecy with the openness that surrounds Taiwan’s system, in which everybody knows who the contenders will be well before a party’s leadership election — or in the case of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the contender, since the KMT, like the CCP, prides itself on presenting a unified face to the public and doesn’t think that intra-party democracy is really a good idea. Party platforms are hashed out in public.
Or look at the US, with the upcoming Democratic and Republican party conventions ahead of November’s general elections. The Democrats will be meeting for a week in Charlotte, North Carolina, starting on Sept. 3. The announcement of the Charlotte meeting was made in February last year. Republicans will be meeting the week before in Tampa, Florida. The choice of Tampa was made in May 2010. Both parties have begun to release the line-up of speakers at the conventions.
Wang said the procedures for selecting delegates to the party congress have been streamlined to make them more efficient and that there will be more candidates for delegates than available seats so local party committees will see some “democracy” in voting for delegates. However, the selection of the real powers remains hidden. How the 200 members of the party’s Central Committee will be selected or how they will choose the politburo and its nine-member Standing Committee, Wang refused to say. Since seven of those nine members will be standing down, it is only natural to wonder who their replacements might be, or even who might be up for contention. But from Beijing, there is only silence. And yet Wang’s spokesman, Deng Shengming (鄧聲明), stressed that the electoral system was very open and transparent.
What is known is that in May, more than 300 top party cadres were asked to list the officials they thought should make the Standing Committee. According to rumors from Beijing, several people linked to Hu’s political base did not do as well as some had expected.
The other thing that is known is that one impediment to a smooth-running party congress is about to be cleared away — the scandal surrounding former Chongqing secretary-general Bo Xilai (薄熙來), whose rapid plummet from grace earlier this year reopened public concerns about corruption at the highest levels of the party. His wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來), whose seven-hour murder trial took place a week ago, will hear her verdict on Monday. Whatever the eventual decision is about Bo, it looks like his wife is going to take the flak.