Revealed: How China picks its top leadership

Instead of votes, party consults with state, military leaders for their recommendations

BEIJING • China's new leaders were picked after a months-long process using a bottom-up consultative approach that replaced a vote-based system that was open to abuse, the official Xinhua news agency said.

This after President Xi Jinping scrapped the previous system, which gave members of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee a say in the selection.

In a lengthy article published on Thursday, Xinhua lifted the lid on the "black box" of elite politics in China with an article detailing how members of two top bodies - the 25-seat Politburo and its Standing Committee (PSC) - were selected at the recently concluded 19th national party congress.

Several senior leaders also did not seek reappointment so as to make way for new blood, Xinhua said.

It pointed out the shortcomings of the previous system, with its "excessive emphasis on votes".

The vote-based system was susceptible to the influence of guanxi, or personal connections, and often led to cronyism, Xinhua said in rare criticism of the system first introduced in 2007.

It said three disgraced officials - former Chongqing party chief Sun Zhengcai, former security czar Zhou Yongkang and former presidential adviser Ling Jihua - had tried to buy votes and manipulate the outcome of internal party elections at the 17th and 18th party congresses in 2007 and 2012.

Zhou and Ling are in jail after being found guilty of graft-related crimes, while Sun, who was removed in July, is under investigation for corruption.

President Xi began to think about the new leadership lineup at the start of this year, and came up with a new procedure for selecting key party and government positions, Xinhua said. The party decided to drop the so-called "vote-based recommendation approach" in favour of a bottom-up "consultation mechanism".

In 2007, Central Committee members used the voting system to pick the top 25 cadres for the next-level Politburo from a list of 200 candidates. Five years later, the voting system was used to select not only Politburo members but also the top seven members of the apex PSC.

President Xi began to think about the new leadership lineup at the start of this year, and came up with a new procedure for selecting key party and government positions, Xinhua said.

The party decided to drop the so-called "vote-based recommendation approach" in favour of a bottom-up "consultation mechanism".

From April to June, Mr Xi had face-to-face meetings with 57 current and retired party, state and military leaders to seek their opinions.

Other senior leaders then held consultation sessions with 290 senior party officials from the military, provincial-level and the central leaderships who would recommend their favoured candidates.

The recommendations were taken only as advice for the final decisions, Xinhua said, citing an official document on personnel policy approved by the PSC in April.

Based on the suggestions, the PSC then proposed the new central leadership lineup on Sept 25.

The criteria for top-post candidates included "loyalty to the Communist Party" and a "high degree of conformity with the party's Central Committee with Comrade Xi at the core".

Shanghai-based political scientist Chen Daoyin told Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post that with the changes, personnel appointments will be "increasingly dependent on the wills of those in power".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'Revealed: How China picks its top leadership'. Print Edition | Subscribe