Myths about a monolithic Communist Party leadership or 'absolute unity' under a core figure have been further shattered by the last leg of preparations for the 15th congress scheduled for Friday. What has emerged from the bits and pieces leaking from Beijing are images of the kind of horse-trading and back-stabbing that the official media have been at pains to dispel. As a final ritual before the grand congress opening, the party convened a four-day 7th Central Committee plenum of the 14th Central Committee, which ended yesterday. Going by past tradition, the last plenum before a party congress should be little more than a pro-forma gathering to rubber-stamp personnel and policy arrangements already decided by the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) and the elders. Not this plenum. Sources close to the conclave said that, because of disagreements at the top, the 300-odd full and alternate members of the Central Committee were actually given an unprecedented opportunity to exercise 'inner-party democracy' by making some key decisions. There were at least three major items on the personnel agenda - firstly, whether the supreme PSC should be expanded to nine members. President Jiang Zemin favoured at least two more additions because he figured they would be on his side. Candidates recommended by Mr Jiang included General Zhang Wannian and former Shanghai party boss Wu Bangguo. According to Beijing sources, most Central Committee members did not want the PSC to be dominated by one clique. They were saying that, even if there were two additions, the newcomers should reflect the principle of the 'five lakes and the seas'. Controversy also erupted over the number of incumbent PSC members who should step down. In spite of his age, General Liu Huaqing, 81, has indicated for at least two years that he is staying put. Late last month, the Jiang foe made a well-publicised tour of Russia - perhaps to demonstrate his prowess. Upon returning to Beijing, General Liu scolded Mr Jiang for scheduling important Politburo meetings when he was out of the country. The second issue was the number of provincial 'warlords' that should be inducted into the Politburo. On this issue, Mr Jiang, premier Li Peng and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Li Ruihuan were pitted against Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji, organisation chief Hu Jintao and elders represented by Bo Yibo. Politicians opposed to more Politburo clout for the 'warlords' such as Mr Zhu asserted that more representation would result in an atrophy of central authority. They indicated that there should only be two 'regional slots' on the policy-setting council: quasi-ex officio seats for the party chiefs of Beijing and Shanghai. Mr Jiang, however, was thinking along more narrow, factional lines. A few local cadres in line for Politburo status, including Chongqing party secretary Zhang Delin and Shandong party boss Wu Guanzheng, are supposed to be close to the President. Mr Li Ruihuan, a longtime party boss and mayor of Tianjin, was lobbying for the new party secretary of the directly administered city, Zhang Lichang. The third issue discussed by the plenum was the number of offspring of senior cadres who should be elevated. The original plan early this year was that as many as 15 would be promoted to the Central Committee in addition to other ministerial positions. Among the champions of the 'princelings' was economic tsar Mr Zhu, who is grooming a number of them for senior perches in the financial and economic departments. It is understood, however, that owing to opposition mainly from regional officials, the number of 'princelings' to make the Central Committee could be whittled down to just five or six. Disagreements also arose as to whether princelings who had xiahai (dived into the sea of business) should be eligible for Central Committee positions. Overall, policy matters have been less of a bone of contention for both Central Committee members and the 2,048 delegates to the 15th congress. Diplomatic analysts said, however, that the final version of Mr Jiang's political report to the congress could be less aggressively pro-market and more centrist than the earlier drafts. The analysts said there was a divergence of views among Central Committee members and congress delegates on the proportion of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that should be converted to shareholding companies or otherwise privatised. 'Several representatives from the northeast provinces are fearful that recent instructions by Mr Zhu to 'rectify' all SOEs in three years might lead to widespread unemployment,' a Western diplomat said. 'Cadres in the northeast, a bastion of Soviet-era factories, are also worried they will lose their jobs to brash young technocrats from Shanghai or Guangdong.' A minority of Central Committee members have even asked Mr Jiang to take out the reference to fighting 'leftism', or remnant Maoism, in his congress report. These cadres argued that since the Maoists were already on the decline, further provoking them would be destabilising. In the area of political reform, discord has centred on the pace of converting ministries into state corporations - and the restructuring of the military forces. Delegates from both coastal and hinterland provinces have raised their voices against the mushrooming PLA business empire. They also wanted a stop to force local contributions to improving army facilities and welfare. 'Nobody dares mention the ideal of the civilian control of the PLA,' an informed source said. 'However, it is clear regional officials want the army to be economically self-sufficient - and less of a drain on the budgets of provincial administrations.'