Edward Wong has the latest from the Changing of the Guard series, in which he says that Chinese leaders are still trying to decide who will ascend to the Standing Committee in just a few weeks:
After nearly a year in which planning for the succession has been upset by an extraordinary string of scandals, the leaders and elders have finally agreed on Nov. 8 as the date to begin the 18th Party Congress, the climax of just the second peaceful transfer of power in China’s Communist era. Much of the back-and-forth over the succession, which officials have kept behind a curtain of secrecy, has involved horse-trading over leadership positions between a faction led by President Hu Jintao and one loyal to his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.
One blow to Mr. Hu this summer was the quiet unfolding of a scandal involving a powerful politician, Ling Jihua, who is Mr. Hu’s fixer. Now another stress point is becoming evident: Mr. Hu appears on the defensive over his legacy because of growing criticism that policies enacted during his decade-long tenure were responsible for the excessive growth of the security forces and also stalled an overhaul of the Chinese economy that is needed to maintain its dynamism.
“Right now, I think Hu feels very worried because a lot of people both inside and outside the party have been criticizing him,” said a party intellectual with ties to the leadership. “Some say he’s the worst leader China has had since 1949. Conflicts in society have intensified; monopolistic and antimarket tendencies in the economy seem to have intensified; and there’s been no real progress on reform.”
Speculation has swirled around the other potential candidates for the standing committee, which many predict will shrink to seven. Beyond the top two, three men are now seen as safe bets: Li Yuanchao, the head of the Organization Department and expected to be the next vice president; Wang Qishan, a vice premier; and Zhang Dejiang, another vice premier.
But after numerous twists, several other top candidates do not appear yet to have secured a seat. They include Yu Zhengsheng, party chief of Shanghai; Wang Yang, party chief of Guangdong Province; Zhang Gaoli, party chief of Tianjin; and Liu Yunshan, director of the Propaganda Department. If the standing committee remains at nine, Liu Yandong, China’s most senior female official, would have a greater chance at a seat, analysts say.