Sus­pi­cions over Xi Jin­ping’s ce­ment­ing grip on power

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION - Me­lanie Peters

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.

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