China’s political elite are expected to oust disgraced figure Bo Xilai (薄熙來) and jostle for leadership roles in their last formal meeting, which opened yesterday ahead of next week’s landmark power handover.
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Committee convened behind closed doors, state media said, with 500 senior members brought together ahead of a congress that will open on Thursday to usher in leaders for the next decade.
The larger congress, which groups about 2,000 party members, is set to name Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) to succeed President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), while Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) is expected to replace Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶).
Little else is known about who will fill a supporting cast to run the world’s second-largest economy, and observers say candidates are still vying for top jobs in a game of intrigue played out beyond the view of the media.
At stake are believed to be between five and seven seats on the party’s elite Politburo Standing Committee, China’s highest decisionmaking body, and up to half of the 25 or so seats on the second-tier politburo, analysts say.
Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), a expert on Chinese politics at City University of Hong Kong, said senior figures would have drawn up lists of candidates for the positions.
“These lists are important because they will effect personnel arrangements for top leaders at the ministries and in the provinces and so on, so these things have to be finalized,” he said.
One man once tipped for a senior role who will not be on the lists is Bo, who was stripped of his parliament seat and lost legal immunity last week, paving the way for him to face trial for corruption and other serious charges.
The party announced in September that he would be expelled but his formal ouster is a final piece of housekeeping the leaders are expected to conclude before the congress starts, analysts say.
A scandal surrounding him and his administration in Chongqing, which has seen his wife convicted for the murder of a British businessman, has plagued the sensitive leadership transition.
Observers say the affair has split the top leadership, with reformers using it as ammunition to advance their push for democratic reform, while conservatives scrambled to shore up the image of a ruling party mired in corruption allegations.
In the absence of competitive elections, the ruling party has in the past 20 years sought to solidify a pattern of leadership transition that is predictable and stable in order to avoid power struggles, Cheng said.
“But with the Bo Xilai case, obviously the process has become more competitive and even ugly,” he said.
Further complicating the political landscape is a New York Times report that said the prime minister’s family had accumulated assets worth US$2.7 billion, in a blow to his self-styled image as a common man leading the fight against graft.
Xinhua news agency said the plenum of the outgoing 17th Communist Party Central Committee, which began yesterday and could last up to four days, will finalize several reports to be tabled at next week’s 18th Party Congress.
These include an amendment to the CCP’s charter, which it did not detail.
Ahead of the congress, the CCP has further tightened already strict censorship of the media and Internet, while cities have been flooded with police and security personnel.
More than 1.4 million people have volunteered to help police “maintain stability” in Beijing in the run up to the landmark meeting, Xinhua reported.
“Since early October, Chinese authorities have engaged in a campaign of intimidation and incarceration to preempt any potential expressions of dissent or protest,” Renee Xia (夏雷妮), director of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said in a statement.
“China’s top political leaders are very nervous, as they have since early this year been consumed by one of the most destabilizing and disharmonious power struggles in decades,” she said.
Meanwhile, some of the security measures in Beijing ahead of the congress seem bizarre: Don’t roll down the taxi windows. Don’t buy a remote-controlled plane without a police chief’s permission. And don’t release your pigeons.
Not only have taxi drivers removed the window handles from their doors, but their passengers must sign agreements promising to keep their windows and doors locked.
People should get the say-so of a police chief to buy a remote-controlled airplane.
And the state-run Global Times newspaper cited an officer from Beijing’s Chaoyang District as saying pigeon owners must keep their birds in their coops.
Additional reporting by AP