Hu Jintao

The limits of Hu's influence are laid bare

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2007, 12:00am

With the eight other members of the revamped Politburo Standing Committee standing behind him, President Hu Jintao yesterday declared the Communist Party's 17th National Congress 'a resounding success' and, in a live television broadcast, promised to open up 'a broader vista' for the party and the country.

But judging from the new leadership lineup unveiled yesterday, Mr Hu's triumph was less resounding than many of his supporters and overseas media would have hoped.

Mr Hu has secured his legacy in the party's history by having his lofty 'scientific concept of development' theory written into the party charter, cementing his authority and influence. But the fact the congress failed to incorporate 'building a harmonious society', another part of his theory, into the party constitution, shows the limits of his influence.

While he has managed to promote a number of his supporters onto the Central Committee and the Politburo, he managed to bring only Li Keqiang , his protege and Liaoning party secretary, onto the Politburo Standing Committee and even then failed to anoint him as the clear successor.

Mr Li is now ranked slightly lower than Shanghai party secretary Xi Jinping, another new Politburo Standing Committee member, who is seen as being closely associated with former president Jiang Zemin and outgoing Vice-President Zeng Qinghong .

Mr Hu also failed to reduce the number of Politburo Standing Committee members from nine to seven and the new lineup in the Politburo and its Standing Committee points to a carefully negotiated compromise among the various party factions.

In what could be conceived as a personal slight for Mr Hu, Ling Jihua, his chief of staff and one of his most trusted aides, is not on the Politburo, although Mr Ling is still a member of the party's powerful secretariat. Usually, the chief of staff for the head of the party is a full or alternate Politburo member. The implications are that the dawning of a Hu era, which many have hoped for, may not materialise.

More importantly, the reorganised power structure signals that centuries of paramount leaders calling the shots is probably over. The leadership is bracing for more consensus-driven, power-sharing and coalition-style governing.

This may not be a bad thing, as the collective decision-making process can help prevent the major upswings and downturns the mainland has experienced on the whims of past paramount leaders.

After all, the mainland's economy is already the world's fourth largest and is growing. But the drawback is that major decisions will take longer and changes are most likely to be incremental.