BEIJING — With only six weeks to go before the formal unveiling of a new set of leaders for China, Communist Party elders and senior officials are still working to finalize decisions on who will ascend to the top ruling bodies and what policy direction they will adopt for the new team, political insiders and analysts say.
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 attempted to keep secret, has involved horse-trading over leadership positions between a faction led by President Hu Jintao and one loyal to his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.
In recent negotiations, Jiang and his allies, who include Xi Jinping, the designated heir to Hu, appear to have had the upper hand, several political insiders said. Jiang’s attendance at a concert in central Beijing on Sept. 22 was interpreted by some as a signal to the public that he was still a force, and perhaps triumphant, in the game of politics.
One blow to Hu this summer was the quiet unfolding of a scandal involving a powerful politician, Ling Jihua, who is Hu’s fixer. Now another stress point is becoming evident: 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 stalled an overhaul of the Chinese economy that was 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 anti-market tendencies in the economy seem to have intensified; and there’s been no real progress on reform.”
Plans for the political agenda and some slots in the new leadership have been tightly contested and closely held. Several people with ties to top leaders who said they would usually be aware of details for the party congress well in advance said they did not even know the event’s starting date until shortly before it was announced.
In recent weeks, a territorial dispute with Japan and sobering economic statistics that point to a worrisome slowdown have added stress to the political negotiations. But a much greater factor behind the uncertainty and delay, insiders say, has been the fallout from the various scandals.