by Zhengxu Wang.


The Party Congress has now officially closed. Tomorrow, the new Central Committee will hold its first Plenum, and “elects” a new Politburo and the Standing Committee of the Politburo. It is a good time to understand how the Party Congress really works.

In times of the internet and social media, previously secret information has become more available. By going back to this and the last Party Congress, we are now able to construct its formal processes.

A Party Congress now normally runs for seven days. A one-day Plenum for the new Central Committee follows, plus a preparatory meeting taking place one day ahead of the Congress, making the whole event nine days long in total.

This year, the proceedings have taken place as follows:

Weds, 7 Nov 2012, Day 0: Preparatory Meeting of the 18th Congress of the Communist Party. This is convened by the incumbent Central Committee, and presided by the incumbent Politburo.

Thurs, 8 Nov 2012, Day 1: The 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party opens. The incumbent General Secretary read the Political Report to the Congress.

9-10 Nov, Days 2-3: Discussion of the Political Report by delegates within their respective delegations. In recent years, some of the delegations were chosen to be open to the media.

The first three days, therefore, are devoted to the discussion of the Political Report, as well as the report by the Central Disciplinary Committee, and any other proposals, such as any proposal to revise the Party Constitution.

From then on, the Congress entered into the selection/election process of the new Central Committee.

11-13 Nov, Days 4 – 6: Firstly, the Presidium (zhuxituan) of the Congress deliberated on the potential candidate list for the Centre. The candidate list was then given to delegates for deliberation within their individual delegations.

Delegates eventually gave votes to the list, the results of which were aggregated by the Presidency but not released to the delegates. With these straw poll results, the Presidium finalized the candidate list by end of Day 6.

14 Nov, Day 7: A plenary of the Congress was held. The delegates voted for the Central Committee by ballot with a list of candidates. They were asked to select 205 out of a slightly larger number of candidates. A few documents were also passed by the same plenary session.

All these demonstrated the Party’s Leninist approach of “Democratic Centralism”, in that the delegates were given opportunities for deliberation, but decisions were made by the elites, in this case the so-called Presidium which is dominated by the current Politburo and Party elders.

Once the Presidium had reached the final decision on who the formal candidate list should contain, the delegates had no choice but to vote those on the list in.

To ensure the Presidium is in full control of the agenda as well as information, the delegates were not allowed to leave their hotels, or depart their delegation, in case that they might release information to the media or other parties. Cross-delegation contact was strictly forbidden.

Intraparty democracy, therefore, remains a lofty goal even at the Party Congress.

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.

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