Party Elders Block Reform Candidates: Report

When the new Standing Committee was announced last week, many people expressed surprised that two reform-minded politicians, Wang Yang and Li Yuanchao, didn’t make the cut. Xinhua reported after the 18th Party Congress that a “landmark” straw poll had been held by “leading cadres” to select the top leadership. Reuters reports:

The party held a meeting of leading cadres in Beijing in May and “democratically recommended” members of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee and the 25-seat Politburo, state news agency Xinhua said late on Thursday, hours after new line-ups for both councils were unveiled.

[…] Xinhua said the cadres took into consideration the “party spirit” of candidates, jargon for their loyalty to the party.

They also took into account whether the candidates were “just and honest”, their abilities and integrity, their age as well as portfolios. Politicians 68 or older are not qualified to join the Standing Committee.

The “democratic recommendation” process involved informal discussions while the views of unspecified people were fully solicited, Xinhua said. It did not elaborate.

Now, Reuters is reporting that in the course of the straw poll, Party elders including Jiang Zemin and Li Peng effectively ruled out the advancement of Wang and Liu:

Two sources said the influential retirees flexed their muscles in landmark informal polls taken before last week’s 18th party congress, where the seven–member standing committee, the apex of China’s power structure, was unveiled.

The clout of the elder statesmen, who include former party chief Jiang Zemin and ex-parliament head Li Peng, underscores the obstacles to even limited reform within senior levels of the party, which has held continuous power since 1949.

The informal polls are the first time the party has flirted with “intra-party democracy” to settle factional fighting over the line-up of the standing committee. It held informal polls in 2007 to decide the larger Politburo.

The report also explains that Wang Yang was left off the Standing Committee after the fall of former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai in order to avoid further antagonizing Bo’s supporters:

The two sources said party seniors decided to drop Wang, who has favored private enterprise in Guangdong and was seen as a rival of Bo, to avoid further upsetting pro-Mao factions in the party, government and military.

“Wang Yang was ousted to avoid Bo supporters creating trouble,” one of the two sources said.

Yet it is not clear how the poll was held or if this will become a standard method to choose new leadership within the Party. Some journalists remain skeptical: