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CommentInsight & Opinion

Communist Party's well-planned route to successful rule

Zhengxu Wang says the Communist Party is able to rule successfully, and maintain public confidence, thanks to its highly organised structure and meticulous preparations ahead of key events

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 3:09am

China's microblogosphere before and after the 18th party congress appeared markedly different. Before, loud voices demanded democracy, predicting that the Communist Party would drop its Mao Zedong Thought tenets and ridiculing the party's opaque power politics in light of the recent US election.

But the day the new leadership was unveiled, microblogs seemed filled with genuine expressions of satisfaction and excitement. Netizens appeared pleased by the new line-up, thankful that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang had been chosen to lead the nation, and impressed by Xi's approachable image. They also respected Hu Jintao's decision to retire completely.

This is a reminder that, like it or not, the party still enjoys a fairly high level of public support. Yes, discontent is widespread because of local government failures and abuses, and demand for political change and democracy is rising, but the general public remains relatively confident in the party's ability to drive the nation forward.

A key factor explaining the party's continuing ability to rule lies in its institutions. This is not a loosely organised party that only works towards obtaining people's political donations and votes at election time. The elaborate body of party institutions governs recruitment, indoctrination, performance evaluation and profiling, promotion, cadre transfer, leadership selection, deliberation, decision making, discipline and other aspects of party life.

Party cells, for example, exist in every workplace, organising members to study the party's ideological and policy lines regularly and intensively. This unifies thinking among party members and ensures that policies set at the top are effectively transmitted to and understood by those on the ground.

The party congress itself represents one of the most important of these institutions, serving two main purposes: to unify the party in terms of policy thinking and direction, and to rejuvenate the top bodies of leadership.

Although the party congress is held for only one week every five years, work has actually been going on through the party rank and file for more than 18 months beforehand. Preparation of the political report, for example, involves countless rounds of consultation and deliberation.

Prior to the party congress, provincial- and city-level congresses are held, setting policy directions for their respective localities and replacing the leadership office corps there. Tens of thousands of officials are assessed, promoted, appointed or reappointed, transferred, replaced or retired, in accordance with elaborate rules and procedures.

So what the outside world saw at the 18th party congress in Beijing last week was only the tip of a gigantic iceberg. Hu's political report to the congress might have been seen as boring because it featured nothing new. But that was exactly the point: a consensus on policy and ideological lines had already been achieved prior to the event.

How the new Politburo and its Standing Committee were selected attracted more attention among the general public. Speculation beforehand was high.

But a review of the party institutions showed that there was never room for big surprises in the selection of new members. The elaborate system of cadre promotion meant that potential candidates for the vacant seats were obvious even before the final deal was struck.

This time, for the five vacant seats on the Standing Committee, just seven or eight candidates could claim to have had a realistic chance. Thus, contrary to speculation about the "daunting task" of selecting the members, it was just a matter of picking five out of the seven candidates.

Despite the long process of deliberation and horse trading that started last year, it seemed the eventual choices were made quite easily: they were based simply on relative length of service in the higher-ranking offices.

Among the five new members of the Standing Committee, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng and Liu Yunshan had served two terms in the Politburo. The other two, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli had each been on the Politburo for just one term. But Wang had already served one term at a deputy state-level position (as a vice- premier) and Zhang, seen as the weakest of the five, had also been on the Central Committee for two terms.

In contrast, the two hopefuls who lost out, Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang, had weaker records. Although both had been on the Politburo for a term, neither had equal or longer service records on the Central Committee than Zhang.

To emphasise the institutional effect, the very fact that all these candidates had made it to such a high level indicated they are more or less equally competent and have very similar political beliefs.

Really, it's useless to hope that one may be a reformist or a liberal; they are all of the same mould. It would have made little difference whoever among the seven got the five seats, although we may hope differently.

Nonetheless, institutional deficiencies still haunt the party. A lack of effective anti-corruption institutions means graft is widespread in the party, and succession politics has been marred by a lack of transparency and predictability, together with a heavy influence of the old guard.

Too many party elders were included in the congress' formal institutions, such as its preparatory committee and presidium, and their views were given too much weight. That certainly tilted the congress more towards stability and conservatism than towards change and liberalism.

Yet, Hu's full retirement can be viewed as a big service to the party as it will greatly diminish the old guard's role in China's leadership politics. Indeed, if retired leaders are not included in the next congress' formal institutions and do not participate in personnel and policy deliberations, the party will probably have a better future.

Zhengxu Wang is an associate professor in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, and deputy director of the China Policy Institute there


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“Democracy is not perfect, but it is the best system so far,” by Aung San Suu Kyi
At the end of the day, you can see the superiority of a country by how many people want to move there to live. There is sure a lot of people from the mainland wanting to live in HK, in America, in other democratic Asian countries and in the west (if they could).
How many are willing to go the other way and give up their citizenships from democratic countries to be imprisoned within China without any right to vote for their leaders to represent the nation? Probably one handful (that have already been brainwashed into communist ideology). Perhaps one of those would be Captam, but my guess is that he was already born and raised in the mainland, and the only freedom he has, ironically, is to write whatever he likes on an internet chatroom provided in the HK.
@sunny: If your logic holds true, then only Western countries are superior (i.e. US, Australia, UK) since the majority of people wanted to move there. Does this mean that countries like Japan, South Korea, etc. which has well established systems, efficiencies but are not the first places where people would want to move are "less superior"? In summary, your logic is seriously flawed and ridiculously narrow-viewed.
You will note that the first three respondents to this article are writers ,who have been brainwashed by those who preach that only Western style democracy can provide decent government.
So long as the "general public remains relatively confident in the party's ability to drive the nation forward" using Professor Wang's words, those who wish to bring down the PRC government can dream on...... it's not going to happen...... and a damn good thing too.
Stability is the key to China's success in going forward. Those who crave the decadent Western system of buying and conning people for their votes should seek intellectual comfort by living in the West as its sinks into ungovernable oblivion with 25% or more youth unemployment rates . They can then content themselves writing to local newspapers, saying how well Western democracy is working and providing for its people.
Western democracy keeps trundling on....... where are all your Communist comrades these days? Thinned-out somewhat in the last 25 years no?
captam - another champion of kleptocracy! keep posting buddy, and maybe some of the loot will be shared with you.
@wwong888: At least captam attempts to present his views and arguments to the best he can. Can't say the same about you as your comments are mostly insulting and non-constructive.
This good professor must be smoking pot or else himself having been brainwashed: "diminsihing old guards' role in Chinese politcis", "work ... through party rank and file for 18 months... ". It all sounds like CCP is the most democratic organization on this planet. Rather, CCP has always been and is the best organized and controlled apparatus on earth - of its members and the populace. One may only pity his students in his teaching of "national education".
Is the editorial page of the SCMP now a communist party mouthpiece?
Actually, diverse viewpoints are appreciated. Though not a fan of the selfish, corrupt and morally bankrupt CCP, I like to read opinions from other sides to gauge how they think and try to understand their thought processes.
Appreciating all sides is important regardless of how repugnant one might think the other is.



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