China Communist Party worried about election upsets

By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) — China's ruling Communists are worried that delegates to this week's five-yearly Congress may deliver surprise upsets in elections due on Sunday according to two inside sources.

The Party fears its plans for who will move into the top echelon of power, the Politburo Standing Committee, could be thwarted if the larger membership fails to vote the anointed few into the 200-odd member Central Committee.

The Party leadership has endorsed a nine-member line-up for the inner core that must be drawn from the Central Committee. The names will officially be revealed on Monday, the day after the 17th Party Congress closes, but The New York Times and Reuters have already reported the designated line-up.

In particular Jia Qinglin, ranked fourth in the Party hierarchy but unpopular with the rank and file, faces a big political test, sources say.

Congress delegates, made up of more than 2,200 officials and Party members from all walks of life, have been urged to "march in step" when voting, the sources said.

"The Party is worried about surprises," one source told Reuters, requesting anonymity for fear of repercussions for speaking to a foreign reporter about the Congress.

Such upsets are not without precedent.

The unpopular conservative ideologue Deng Liqun had been set to become an alternate member of the Politburo at the 13th Party Congress in 1987 but was ousted in Central Committee elections.

And at the 14th Congress in 1992, Chongqing city Party boss Xiao Yang's chances of becoming a Politburo alternate were also dashed when he lost in the larger vote, said a Party source who attended the conclave.

Voting out the worst

Jia has been dogged by accusations of corruption and family ties to one of China's biggest smuggling scandals involving kingpin Lai Changxing, arguably the country's most wanted fugitive who is fighting extradition from Canada.

"If (President) Hu Jintao's attack on corruption has any credibility, people like Jia who is still under a cloud ... should go," said Alfred Chan, a political scientist at Canada's Huron College.

Some analysts said that even if Jia, 67, head of the top advisory body to parliament, makes it to the Standing Committee, he may not serve out the full five years of his second term.

The Party first broadened the scope of intra-Party democracy in the late 1980s. At the 16th Congress five years ago, 208 Central Committee candidates vied for 198 seats, so there were 5 percent more candidates than seats.

Delegates voted for up to 198 people on the ballot — those candidates who won less than 50 percent of the vote or the lowest 10 vote-getters were eliminated. Those ousted were invited to stand again to become one of more than 150 alternates, but were not eligible to join the Standing Committee.

Hong Kong's Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, a watchdog that regularly breaks news about China, said the number of Central Committee candidates versus seats would be doubled this year to 10 percent.
"This system is not about voting in our best people. Rather, it's about voting out the worst," said political commentator Liang Kezhi, who writes under a pseudonym to avoid any backlash.

Congress spokesman Li Dongsheng declined to comment when asked at a pre-Congress news conference on Sunday about the number of candidates versus seats. All he would say was that the vote would be by secret ballot.
Other designated Standing Committee members who may get the boot include ideology tsar Li Changchun and two political allies of outgoing Vice President Zeng Qinghong.

If a designated Standing Committee member is voted out, top labor unionist Wang Zhaoguo is a dark horse to join the Standing Committee, analysts said.

Wang, a close ally of Hu, took on Wal-Mart and forced the U.S. retailing giant to agree to unionize its local stores.

He wears a second hat as the top vice-chairman of parliament.