State media sheds light on how China selects its most powerful men

According to Xinhua, President Xi Jinping 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.
According to Xinhua, President Xi Jinping 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.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - Disgraced Chinese official Sun Zhengcai is among those who rigged a vote-based promotion system that China's Communist Party had relied on in the past to select its top leaders, reported Xinhua news agency.

The party has since dropped the so-called "vote-based recommendation approach" and opted for a bottom-up consultation mechanism for the latest round of personnel reshuffle at the 19th Party Congress, said Xinhua in a lengthy article that offered a rare look into the "black box" of elite politics in China.

The article, published a day after Beijing unveiled its new generation of leaders on Wednesday, detailed how members of the new Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the top decision-making body in China, and the broader 25-member Politburo were selected.

An "excessive emphasis on the votes" in the past had brought about some drawbacks, Xinhua said, citing the examples of Sun, the former party chief of Chongqing municipality, and two other fallen officials, former security tsar Zhou Yongkang and former presidential adviser Ling Jihua.

The trio, who were ousted from the party on corruption charges, had tried to buy votes and manipulate the outcome of internal party elections at the 17th and 18th party congresses, said Xinhua. Ling and Zhou are serving life imprisonment for bribery and abuse of power.

Sun, who was once seen as a contender for the apex PSC, was expelled from the party in September and would be prosecuted for corruption, leaking of state secrets, bribery and abuse of power.

"Some comrades did nothing beyond putting a tick on the ballot, leading to arbitrary voting and a distortion of public opinion," Xinhua said.

The vote-based system is susceptible to the influence of guanxi, or personal connections. and often led to cronyism, Xinhua said in rare criticism of the vote-based system which was first introduced in 2007. During 17th Party Congress, members of the party's Central Committee voted to select their favourite 25 cadres for the next-level Politburo from a list of 200 candidates.

At the 18th Party Congress five years later, the system was used to select both the members of the Politburo, as well as the apex PSC.

According to Xinhua, President Xi Jinping 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.

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

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

Their votes are only taken as advice for the final decisions, noted Xinhua, citing an official document on personnel policy approved by the PSC in April this year(2017).

"Candidates should have firm faith and be loyal to the Communist Party of China, and keep a "high degree of conformity with the party's Central Committee with Comrade Xi at the core," according to sources close to the central leadership.

"They should have outstanding leadership abilities, be a veteran in practice with the determination to push forward reforms and innovation, take a lead in implementing democratic centralism, and be an impartial and upright person with a communist outlook on the world, life and values," Xinhua reported.

It said several senior leaders voluntarily offered not to seek reappointment to make room for younger officials and that the age of an incumbent Politburo member is not a factor in deciding whether the official gets nominated for a second term.

Three Politburo members - all younger than the unofficial retirement age of 68 - lost their Politburo places at the recently concluded party congress, though there have been no reports of them being placed under investigation.