China’s 20th Party Congress
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
President Xi Jinping waves as he walks ahead of other members of the Politburo Standing Committee during a dinner reception at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 30, the eve of the National Day holiday. Photo: AP

Explainer | How are China’s top Communist Party leaders nominated?

  • List likely to be based on small, face-to-face meetings, many involving President Xi Jinping
  • Previous use of ballots abandoned five years ago over concerns vote could be rigged

China’s most important decisions are made by the Communist Party’s 25-member Politburo and its seven-member Standing Committee, but how those members are selected has always been opaque and has become even less clear in the past 15 years.

Immediately after the party’s national congress, which will open on Sunday, the newly elected Central Committee is expected to endorse a list of Politburo members and those who will sit on its standing committee.

The Politburo selection process is expected to largely follow the protocols seen at the previous party congress in 2017 and be based on nominations from small, face-to-face meetings held earlier, many involving President Xi Jinping, who is also the party’s general secretary.

Limited details of the selection process will be publicised only after the new line-up is revealed, but the party said five years ago that it had been adopted in response to vote-rigging by very senior officials in the previous decade.

Once the list of nominees is finalised, few changes are expected as it is passed around various party bodies.

Between April and June in 2017, Xi met 57 incumbent and retired senior officials to hear their nominations, while other senior leaders met 258 ministerial-level officials for theirs, Xinhua reported.

Most such meetings took place inside Beijing’s Zhongnanhai compound, where the party’s top leaders live and work.

The nominations were for members of the Politburo, its Standing Committee, the Central Military Commission, the party’s secretariat – which now has seven members – as well as key members of the State Council and members of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference representing the party, Xinhua said.

The party would usually set very specific ranges for the nominees in terms of age and current positions, it added.

The Politburo has always included at least one woman since 2002, but there is no guarantee it will include a member from an ethnic minority.

The identify of those approached to join the meetings in 2017 is not known, along with how they were chosen, who they nominated or whether those nominations were successful.

A list of nominees was first passed at a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee in late September that year, a little over two weeks before the start of the party congress. The list was later endorsed by a Politburo meeting and sent for endorsement by the newly elected Central Committee.

The nomination process was very different from the previous two iterations, when it kicked off with hundreds of top officials casting ballots at a large meeting. The results of the vote were the basis of further discussions by Politburo members.

Around five months before the party congress in 2007, more than 400 full members and alternate members of the Central Committee convened in Beijing and were each given an orange ballot to nominate members for the Politburo. Hu Jintao, then president and head of the party, hailed the ballot as being “significant for in-party democracy”.

At the next five-yearly congress, ballots were also used to nominate members of the Politburo Standing Committee.

The party abandoned nomination by ballots because of “serious rigging” in 2012, Xinhua reported in 2017, singling out three disgraced top leaders for blame.

They were Zhou Yongkang, the party’s top security chief and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee between 2007 and 2012, Sun Zhengcai, Chongqing’s party boss and a member of the Politburo between 2007 and 2012, and Ling Jihua, Hu’s chief of staff between 2007 and 2012.

All three have been jailed for corruption and been accused of forming their own factions to undermine the solidarity of the party’s leadership.