By Zhengxu Wang.

Something previously deemed utterly unthinkable may indeed take place at this Party Congress. And it relates to the most powerful institution, the Standing Committee of the Politburo (PBSC).  There are indications that, in a major experiment of intraparty political reform, the Party could run an election for the PBSC.

Not a full-scaled one, that is. It may be that, of the seven slots in the body, one may be subject to an election by the newly established Central Committee, which has slightly more than 200 regular members.

This would be a surprise, but not such a big one if we take note of recent electoral or semi-electoral experiments that the Party has tried.

Five years ago, a few months ahead of the Party Congress, the Centre ran a poll among about 4-500 current and retired top officials. The result of the poll helped decided that Xi Jiping and Li Keqiang would be promoted to the PBSC at the Party Congress held later that year.

The same exercise was reported to have been carried out earlier this year, and the poll figures were to be used during deliberations concerning the new Politburo and PBSC line-up.

On both occasions, of course, the polls are only “consultative”, in the sense that the results did not decide who won which position, but rather were used as a way for the leaders to gauge the levels of support the candidates enjoyed.

At this Party Congress, to open in just one week’s time, something real may actually happen. One slot of the PBSC might be subject to a real election.

This sounds plausible, because at the moment it looks like completion of a final list for the PBSC has yet to have been achieved. The overseas rumour mills are delivering several competing versions, and no version seems to be fully convincing.

Whether or not Wang Yang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunsha and Zhang Gaoli will make it to the PBSC remain  centrepieces of speculation. And Wang Qishan’s prospects have been put in doubt too: despite his being long deemed to take up the seat reserved for the next Executive Vice Premier, recent rumours have said that he shall be moved to chair the People’s Political Consultative Conference. Yet another version has speculated that he shall take over the Party’s Central Disciplinary Committee.

And then there is the rumour that Li Yuanchao won’t make it. What a great surprise  this would be?

One source has made the following statement:

“In a recent meeting, six of the seven members were set. These included Xi Jiping, Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Wang Qishan, Zhang Gaoli and Wang Yang. The remaining one seat will be subject to an election at the Congress, with three candidates: Li Yuanchao, Liu Yunshan, and Yu Zhengsheng.”

This makes sense because if true:

1)      It explains why some versions say Li Yuanchao was excluded in the current list;

2)      It explains why the portfolios of Wang Qishan, because  Wang’s portfolio might depend on which of the three candidates will emerges as the winner of the presumptive election;

3)      It explains why there was rumour that the PBSC will have an election and it was expected one person who was deemed too conservative will lose out in such an election. This appears to refer to Liu Yunshan.

It makes even more sense if we take into account Li Yuanchao’s role as a pusher of intraparty democracy. It may well be that he recommended this plan to the Party, and volunteered himself to be a person to be tested by the election.

Zhengxu Wang is Deputy Director of China Policy Institute.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.


  1. Interesting observations, Zhengxu. But I do not follow the reasoning. Why would Li Yuanchao offer his seat to be contested? What’s in it for him? If the seat were not allocated to him how would he be in a position to offer it for election? Why should the top leadership and ‘king makers’ behind the scene agree to let Li offer his seat to ‘election’? Once the precedent is set, will it not raise expectations that in the future PBSC seats will need to be open to election? How can the Party still make sure the ‘most appropriate’ comrades will be put in the right place in future leadership successions? On what basis do we draw the conclusion that the Leninist Party is now willing to give up a basic principle of, well, a Leninist party? When did ‘intra-party democracy’ means something fundamentally different from democratic centralism?

  2. I agree that this is an intriguing possibility, but am skeptical that it would be focused on only one seat. To do so would make it a referendum on Li Yuanchao and his political backer. IF (and it’s a big if) the leadership decides to open the PBSC election to a more-candidates-than-seats vote, there are several preliminary questions that would have to be answered. 1) Who votes? The politburo? The Central Committee (highly doubtful)? The Congress (Fuggedaboutit as they say in New York.)? 2) Would it not make more sense to have an election with three or even four seats at risk among the four or five potential candidates? (Those being presumably Wang Yang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Li Yuanchao, and Zhang Gaoli.) 3) Is the leadership ready to jump this far? Or is it more likely that IF (again, a big if) they want to inject more “democracy” in the process, they would start with a few more candidates than seats on the politburo, rather than its standing committee? Actually giving broader say to others on the selection of the very top leaders seems a bridge too far at this point, especially from an outgoing president/party chief who has shown little if any inclination to experiment or engage in political reform, and whom many actually consider a backslider. Best, Chris

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