China leaders aim to boost legitimacy at party congress

Wed, Aug 15, 2012, 01:00

CHINA’S RULING Communist Party has indicated that women and young people will be better represented at its 18th Congress, part of efforts to boost the legitimacy of a tricky leadership transition clouded by the purge of politburo member Bo Xilai.

At a news conference in Beijing yesterday, the party promised more transparency at the congress, but declined to extend this spirit of openness to revealing when the event will take place.

Wang Jingqing, deputy head of the party’s organisation department, said only that the congress was planned for the second half of the year. It usually takes place in October.

There was also no insight into whether the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee would remain at its current size of nine seats, shrink to seven, or even, as some have speculated, be expanded to 11.

“Not even I know that,” Mr Wang said.

The once-in-a-decade leadership transition begins with the congress. Seven Standing Committee members are stepping down, including Hu Jintao, who holds the three top branches of power: president, Communist Party Secretary and head of the central military commission that runs the military.

Vice-president Xi Jinping, who visited Ireland in February, is expected to succeed Mr Hu as party leader at the congress, before assuming the presidency as well next spring. There is a question mark over when Mr Xi will fully be able to assume control.

Traditionally, the outgoing leader packs the Standing Committee with members of his power base, to ensure the leader’s legacy is assured. It took Mr Hu years to oust the supporters of former leader Jiang Zemin from the committee, and Mr Jiang did not cede control of the military for fully two years after he had stepped down from his other leadership posts.

Li Keqiang is expected to take over the premier’s position from Wen Jiabao.

The party is keen to stress how this is a new generation running China, a brand of leadership very different from when veterans of the civil war and Mao Zedong’s era still dominated the ranks.

Mr Wang said more than two-thirds of delegates to this year’s congress were party members who had joined after November 1976, following the death of Mao, which marks a 20.5 percentage point increase over 2007.

“The party members who joined the party after China’s reform and opening up constitute the major part of the delegates,” Mr Wang said.

The party is also keen to stress how it is listening to grassroot concerns and is introducing greater democracy in selecting the 2,270 delegates who represent more than 82 million party members.

The number of women delegates may be increasing but there is only one woman on the 25- member politburo, state councillor Liu Yandong; and four women on Mr Wen’s 35-member state council. There are no women on the Standing Committee.

The average age of delegates is 52 and most are chosen from upper ranks of the party.

There were also no details on how the roughly 200 members of the Central Committee would be selected or by what method they would then pick the politburo and the Standing Committee.

The new leadership faces serious challenges not faced by its predecessors. The world’s second largest economy is slowing down and there is an urgent need to address challenges such as transforming the country’s export-driven economy into one powered by domestic consumption.

The background to the congress is the ongoing scandal surrounding former rising star Bo Xilai, purged as Chongqing party chief in March.

His wife, Gu Kailai, did not contest charges that she was involved in murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.

The speedy completion of the one-day trial may have helped the leadership firm up details for the party congress.