Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, October 07, 2016

Choosing a leader without a constitution

A constitution usually describes how and when a new leader is chosen. When a regime or a party relies on an informal agreement for those rules, things are liable to change. The speculation in China has begun months ahead of any announcement, signaling how unstable the system is.

Xi Jinping May Delay Picking China’s Next Leader, Stoking Speculation
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, appears prepared to defy the Communist Party’s established script for transferring power and delay the designation of his successor until after a party congress next year, unsettling the party elite and stirring speculation that he wants to prolong his tenure.

The delay would buy Mr. Xi more time to promote and test favored candidates and prevent his influence from ebbing away to a leader-in-waiting, experts and political insiders said. But the price could be years of friction while a pack of aspiring cadres vie for the top job, as well as unnerving uncertainty over whether Mr. Xi wants to stay in power beyond the usual two terms as party leader…

The succession quandary is shaping up as a defining test of the power and ambition of Mr. Xi, already China’s most dominant leader in decades. When and how his heir is chosen, and who is picked, will offer a measure of how much further Mr. Xi can bend the party’s ideas of collective rule that evolved after the upheavals of Mao Zedong’s last years.

The system for succession, developed after a long period of political turmoil, was devised to help ensure a predictable, stable transition of power in the one-party state. Any effort by Mr. Xi to alter that compact might increase his considerable authority, but it could also inject instability into the delicately balanced system…
The drama will probably begin in earnest this month, when the Central Committee… meets in Beijing. That meeting is likely to set in motion plans for the congress, which will meet in late 2017 to endorse a new top lineup.

While it is a given that the congress will back Mr. Xi for another five-year term as party leader, nearly everything else is up for grabs, giving Mr. Xi great sway to shape the new leadership…

Two terms as party leader has evolved as the standard since the 1990s, and an heir apparent is usually clear by the start of the second. The selection requires a consensus of the party elite, the product of behind-the-scenes wrangling. The previous two presidents had to accept successors who were not their picks.

But Mr. Xi’s blistering anticorruption campaign and amassing of power have shaken the idea that Chinese elite politics has settled into a stolid routine under collective control…

The dilemma for Mr. Xi is that the politicians who will remain in the top echelons after next year’s retirements do not have long experience working with Mr. Xi or the right set of postings in provincial and central government, according to several experts and people who speak to senior officials. But the rising provincial leaders considered closest to him lack the experience to be taken seriously as the next national leader in waiting.

Perhaps the biggest subject of speculation is that Mr. Xi is bent on staying in power after his second term ends in 2022. The Constitution requires that he retire after two terms as president, but there is no limit on the more powerful job, general secretary of the party.

There is, however, an informal limit, which, like collective rule by the party elite, was instituted by Deng to prevent another dictator-for-life like Mao…

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