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China said women and young people will be better represented at its Communist Party Congress, widening efforts to bolster the legitimacy of a leadership transition clouded by the ouster of Politburo member Bo Xilai.
Of the 2,270 delegates elected to attend the 18th congress, 521 are women, 76 more than in 2007, Wang Jingqing, Vice Minister of the Organization Department in the party, said at a briefing today in Beijing. There is a 1.9 percentage-point increase in the number of people under the age of 35 who will be attending, Wang said.
Outgoing party chief Hu Jintao and his colleagues are seeking to maintain Communist dominance of a society that’s been transformed in the three decades since the nation embraced economic opening. By shining a light on cronyism and corruption, the scandal surrounding Bo has highlighted the need for the party to bolster public backing.
“They are trying to provide some kind of confirmation that everything is going on smoothly regardless of the Bo Xilai affair,” said Bo Zhiyue, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asia Institute. “For a long time there’s been no information on the 18th party congress and there are so many rumors.”
Wang didn’t give a date for when the party congress will be held. The date for the 2007 Congress, which convened in mid- October, was announced at the end of August that year. The six party congresses since 1982 have all been held between September and November.
The earliest start was in 1982 when the congress began Sept. 1, while the latest one commenced Nov. 8, 2002. All except the 2002 congress started before November.
While the number of women delegates to the congress is increasing, there is currently only one woman on the 25-member Politburo, State Councilor Liu Yandong, and four women on Premier Wen Jiabao’s 35-member state council. There are no women on the Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s supreme decision-making body.
The growing number of young delegates signals an effort by the party to ensure its long-term survival. Party leaders have been trying to boost the number of young members, using social media and online games to reach out to China’s 538 million Internet users.
Wang said more than two-thirds of delegates to this year’s congress were party members who had joined after November 1976, following the death of Mao Zedong, which was a 20.5 percentage point increase over 2007.
“The party members who joined the party after China’s reform and opening up constitute the major part of the delegates to the 18th National Party Congress,” Wang said.
Congress delegates will elect the members of the Central Committee, which selects the Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee.
The Politburo Standing Committee’s nine members may be reduced to seven, according to an Aug. 7 Barclays Plc research note. Only Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who are in line to succeed Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao respectively, will retain their positions on the Standing Committee, the note said.
The turnover in the country’s most powerful bodies, including the Central Military Committee, which controls China’s military, may be the biggest in three decades, said Cheng Li, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, who focuses on Chinese elite politics. About 70 percent of the members in the top ruling bodies will be replaced mainly due to their age, Cheng said.
The trial of Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, is the latest chapter in a scandal that led to his ouster as Chongqing party chief in March and sparked the most serious leadership upheaval since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
Gu was tried last week for the murder of a British businessman. The state-run Xinhua News Agency said she confessed to poisoning Neil Heywood because she feared he posed a threat to her son.
The completion of the one-day trial, held Aug. 9 in the eastern city of Hefei, may have helped the leadership firm up details for the party congress, said Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in the U.K.
China’s new leaders will face a series of challenges, including slowing growth in the world’s second-biggest economy and transforming the country’s export-driven growth model into one that is powered by domestic consumption.
China’s economy grew 7.6 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, the weakest pace since the global financial crisis as export demand from Europe weakened. China needs to rebalance its economy away from a reliance on investment for growth by reducing its savings rate and boosting domestic consumption, the International Monetary Fund said in May.
“Whoever is going to be running China in the next 10 years is going to require far better skills, far better capacity to act, and far better insight than the previous generation of leaders,” said Tsang.
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