China is set to have a new leadership team for the next 10 years that will formally be announced at the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which starts early next month. The next general secretary of the CCP, who will also be the country’s president, has already been selected in behind-the-scenes party conclaves as part of factional deals. The Party Congress is expected to put an official stamp on it.
According to many accounts, the likely candidate for president and party general secretary (the latter title is more important because the party wields actual power), is Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), with First Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), likely to be made prime minister.
The party’s standing committee, the governing body of nine members, might also be cut to seven in the new reshuffle. The new leadership lineup will be known for certain at the 18th Congress, slated to start on Nov. 8.
The party general secretary and president is generally also the chairman of the central military commission, combining the executive, political and military roles in one person, making them the most important Chinese leader.
However, in the last leadership transition in 2002, when Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), became the party general secretary and the country’s president, then-president, Jiang Zemin (江澤民) was keen to stay on beyond his agreed 10 years. The situation was eventually resolved with Jiang staying on for another two years as chairman of the military commission, which demonstrated his political clout in the corridors of power, and his faction was also accorded some weighty representation in the powerful standing committee.
Whether Hu will insist on remaining as head of the military commission for a period of time, like his predecessor, to share power with Xi, should soon become apparent.
It is important to highlight such difficulties because of the lack of institutional mechanisms for leadership successions following a popular mandate. At some point China will need to work out a transparent succession mechanism, to avoid future factional power struggles between its leaders that can be disruptive and even dangerous. This is especially true when, after Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), China no longer has a supreme leader. Both Jiang and Hu had Deng’s imprimatur.
Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家) went on record to emphasize the need for popular participation when he said: “If we are to address the people’s grievances we must allow people to supervise and criticize the government.”
Take the recent case of Bo Xilai (薄熙來): The powerful boss of the Chongqing metropolis of 30 million people, came close to threatening the stability of the system by raising the red banner of Mao against corruption, and the widening gap in wealth between the country’s poor and the rich with CCP connections.
In the end, he was deposed and expelled from the party, and will soon face trial for corruption and more besides. His wife has been handed a suspended life sentence for the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, over a real-estate deal gone sour.
It is important to remember that Bo was not alone in his crusade for the poor, and he had attracted some important party and military functionaries around him, equally dissatisfied with the state of affairs at the highest level.