Chinese President Xi Jinping today began final consultations with top party leaders ahead of next week’s key congress of the ruling Communist Party which is expected to further reinforce his powers on par with party founder Chairman Mao Zedong. The Plenary Session of the outgoing Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) which was elected during 18th Congress five years ago started its last meeting today to make final preparation for the upcoming 19th national congress which would begin here on October 18, official media reported. The agenda of the plenum included a draft report to be submitted to the 19th congress of the work done in the last five years and more significantly a draft amendment to the CPC Constitution, Xinhua news agency reported. The meeting will also discuss the draft work report of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), headed by 64-year-old Xi’s close confidant Wang Qishan, who carried out the massive anti-corruption campaign against some of the top leaders of the previous administration like security czar Zhou Yongkong and top military Generals.
Besides massive purges of Zhou and his men down the ranks, the recent CCDI report said over 1.34 million officials were punished in the anti-graft campaign initiated by Xi, which also established his absolute leadership over the party. That included over 40 top Generals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and 13,000 personnel of the various ranks. While the results of the deliberations of the powerful Central Committee, which included the top leadership including Premier Li Keqiang, were yet to be released, speculation is rife about the constitutional changes.
During the week-long congress, 2,287 delegates from across China will gather to formalise the selection of the top leaders and to endorse President Xi’s second five-year term. The 89-million-strong CPC which ruled the country since 1949, the longest party in power, has a constitutional structure but much of its leadership hierarchy is based on conventions like two five-year terms for the top leaders and 68 as their retirement age. Since the convention was evolved in 2002, all the leaders including the Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao followed it as an unwritten rule and retired.
Another widely followed convention is the identification of a successor in the second term. While the next week’s Congress is expected to further reinforce the power base of Xi, who has already been named by the party as a “core leader” like Mao and his successor Deng Xiaoping, speculation is rife whether he will break the convention and pave the way for a third term. For that, all eyes are on Wang, who keeps a low public profile but is often described as China’s second most powerful man. If Wang, who is 69, continues for another term it will pave the way for Xi in 20th Congress to continue in power.
Also, the national and international attention will be on who the party is going to pick for the seven member Standing Committee which literally rules the country and whether there will be a hint for a successor. Xi, who is the Party General Secretary and the President, is also the Chairman of the Central Military Commission – the high command of the country’s military. He is the only civilian in the 11-member committee. He was nominated to the committee during the second term of his predecessor Hu. Observers say the hints to be watched in the 19th Congress will be whether any of the party leaders will be projected as Xi’s successor.
Also, Xi is speaking of political control of the leadership over the military as well as institutional changes to the CPC which were expected to be reflected in the proposed constitutional changes. Xinhua reported that opinions have been solicited on the draft documents within certain groups. Li Chengyan, head of Peking University’s Centre for Anti-Corruption Studies, told the China Daily that the plenary session is of great importance, as it will make preparations for the party’s 19th congress.
“The plenary session will discuss the reports to be delivered at the party’s 19th national congress,” he said. The congress will also thoroughly examine the current international and domestic situation and draw out guidelines and policies that respond to the call of the times, it said. “The 19th congress will be a milestone. It will not only wrap up the experience of building the economy, society and the party in the last five years but also draw up a blueprint for the next five years, and even longer,” Wang Manchuan, secretary-general of the China Society of Administrative Reform, told the state-run CGTN TV.