Suspicions over Xi Jinping’s cementing grip on power
THE communist party meeting is done and dusted. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has successfully established himself as China’s political supremo.
No big surprises there. The
19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China ended this week with 3 000 journalists from local and international media in Beijing for the country’s most important political event.
Here, the apex of China’s ruling party was decided. Five new appointments were made to the country’s most powerful group, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.
Xi, 64, premier Li Keqiang,
62, were the only committee members to retain their positions. Vice-Premier Wang Yang, 62, has been appointed China’s executive vice-premier. Han Zheng, 63, has been promoted to lead the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. They were joined by Zhao Leji, 60, who will lead the party’s anti-corruption body, Li Zhanshu, 67 and Wang Huning, 62.
But it is the amendments to the Communist Party of China’s constitution and an unclear successor to Xi, apparent break with tradition, that has dominated Western media headlines.
Specifically, Xi’s ideology was enshrined in its constitution, a move overseas media believe elevates him to the same level as party founder Mao Zedong.
The BBC pointed to the unanimous vote to write in “Xi Jinping Thought” at the end of the congress, arguing that this was an increased grip on his power since becoming leader in 2012.
The omission of a successor is viewed by political analysts as Xi cementing his role in the seat of power for the next five years and, possibly, beyond.
The BBC said: “This move means that any challenge to Mr Xi will now be seen as a threat to Communist Party rule.”
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies ahead of the congress characterised China’s top ruler’s tenure as one of “political shock and awe”.
The research organisation said in an article penned by Christopher Johnson, a senior adviser and Freeman Chair in China Studies, that some scholars have argued, however, that despite the paucity of hard rules governing Chinese elite politics, its leadership followed “a discrete series of identifiable political practices” regarding senior leadership promotion and succession with little variation in the past two decades.
Although not an exhaustive list, these “norms” included the sitting top leader of the party serving no more than two five-year terms as CCP general secretary before handing over that post to a successor.
A successor was usually publicly identified at the party congress at the midpoint of the party chief ’s decade-long tenure and inherits key posts that clearly mark him as understudy to the top leader.
And lastly, in recognition of service, the outgoing leader’s contribution – his “guiding ideology” – was enshrined in the party’s constitution.
Political analysts have been quick to point out that none, besides founder Mao Zedong, have had their philosophy described as “thought”, which was at the top of the ideological hierarchy. Only Mao and Deng Xiaoping have had their names attached to their ideologies. In Deng’s case it was only added after his death.
Chinese media on the other hand predictably focused on the Xi strengths which include weeding out corrupt officials. In his address at a press conference after the announcement of the powerful seven, Xi pledged to get rid of “any virus that erodes the party’s fabric”.
His Belt and Road economic initiative, the rejuvenation of the old silk road, on which he has staked his legacy, was also included in the document.
He has also been commended for the radical restructuring of the world’s largest fighting force, the People’s Liberation Army.
Xi’s military thinking and the party’s “absolute” leadership over the military have been included in the constitution.
The resolution reads that “the People’s Liberation Army will be strengthened by enhancing its political loyalty... the CPC will build the people’s forces that obey the party’s command, can fight and win”.
Curious rhetoric, especially, if you read between the lines.
Everyone from school children to state factory workers will be expected to join 89 million Communist Party members in studying “Xi Jinping Thought” on the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Perhaps to keep informed, China’s geopolitical opponents as well as its allies should do so too.
Peters is the live editor of Weekend Argus. She is on a 10-month scholarship with the China Africa Press Centre. Instagram: mels_ chinese_takeout UHURU Kenyatta may have gotten his way and ensured last Thursday’s poll took place before electoral reforms were implemented, but in doing so he has ushered in a new period of political instability in Kenya.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga is serious when he said that the National Super Alliance will now become a resistance movement to guide the country to fresh, free and fair elections.
This week’s elections could not be deemed free and fair by any means. Even the Electoral Commission chief expressed concern over the poll’s credibility and preferred a delay.
In a worrying development, another senior election official, Roselyn Akombe, fled to the US last week after receiving anonymous threats, and Ezra Chiloba, the Electoral Commission’s CEO, announced he would take a three week leave of absence, leaving the election body short of three senior officials during the contentious vote.
Odinga had withdrawn from the election because the electoral commission had rejected his demands for reform. The Supreme Court was unable to hear Wednesday’s case that raised important questions regarding the election.
The National Super Alliance under Odinga’s leadership plan to boycott the goods and services of those who have supported what they believe are Kenyatta’s lawless grab of the presidency. Odinga has said he will lead a campaign of civil disobedience against the ruling Jubilee Party.
That is a recipe for prolonged instability in the East African community, considering that the security forces are likely to clamp down on the opposition and unleash violence against demonstrators in the weeks to come.
Kenya has a history of political instability being accompanied by violence. In the hotly contested 2007 elections, 1 100 Kenyans were killed, and more than 350 000 fled their homes. Economic growth at the time plummeted from 7.1% in 2007 to
1.7% in 2008.
The political standoff has already unnerved investors, scared tourists, and sent Kenya’s stocks tumbling.
But the bitterly divided East African country is facing a more systemic and deep rooted political problem, in that since independence in 1963, political and economic power has been concentrated in the hands of the Kikuyus, the largest of the country’s 44 ethnic groups. Odinga is a Luo, and many Luos feel they have been marginalised from the running of the country.
This is a fact requiring urgent reform in order to ensure fairer power sharing if their country is to heal its divisions. Some analysts say that one way of addressing this problem is to create a federal constitution which will empower the governors and increase the allocation of resources and budget to the counties.
The other concern is the fact Jubilee’s first term in office was characterised by a dramatic shrinking of the civil space. Following the annulled August 8 vote, the administration had threatened to deregister four civil society organisations. Kenyatta also threatened to “deal with the court” after the unfavourable decision.
Throughout Kenyatta’s first term, Odinga claims to have struggled to reach voters through the Kenyan media, which is largely dependent on government advertising. Given the prognosis that the short term will see a highly fractured political environment where government tries to retain control in the face of rising civil society and opposition party the press could find itself under increased pressure.
Odinga may have succeeded in delegitimising the re-run of the elections but the way forward is murky and threatens violence and further marginalisation in a country that is already somewhat of a tinderbox in terms of its underlying ethnic tensions.
The AU has been silent on Kenya’s electoral turmoil other than calling for peace ahead of the poll, but it may be time for the AU Peace and Security Council to engage in preventative action which it professes is key to avoiding conflict.