China’s grand political spectacle, the 18th National Party Congress, concluded with the fifth-generation leadership of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang leading the elite Politburo Standing Committee (PSC). In an unprecedented move, outgoing President Hu Jintao relinquished the post of Chairperson of the Central Military Commission (CMC); considered No 1 in the Chinese hierarchy, the CMC Chairperson can de jure command troops and press the nuclear button. Mao Zedong held the CMC post until his death in 1976. Deng Xiaoping retired in 1987 but relinquished the CMC post 2 years later. Jiang Zemin retired in 2002 but relinquished the CMC post in 2004. This led to two chains of command in the political system. But outgoing President Hu completed a smooth transition by also stepping down from the CMC post, although the jury is out on whether this was an altruistic move or purely the result of loss of clout. The net effect is that unlike the Indian political system, Xi is King, with institutional and operational control over both the party apparatus and the military, as Party General Secretary and President and Chairperson of the CMC.
The smiles on the faces of the new 7-member PSC, the top decision-making body of China, belied the months of frenetic and frenzied countdown, the ‘give and take’ behind the scenes between factions, the swelling pressures of diverse interest groups and retired leaders who still want to rule by proxy, and, most of all, the Party’s worst crisis since Tienanmen in 1989.
This came in the wake of a challenging factional divide that threatened to derail Xi’s chance of taking the President’s office. The challenger to the throne was none other than the dapper Bo Xilai, the erstwhile party secretary of Chongqing, who has since been formally declared purged from the Party.
This was no run-of-the-mill crisis. Bo was no ordinary contender. Suave, charismatic and a princeling to boot, he displayed a marked propensity to engage in competitive, ‘American’ style politics in a system that is still politically closed, a politics that naturally came undone. In the past, many leaders have been purged (from military commander Peng Dehuai in 1959 for criticising Mao Zedong to Zhao Ziyang in 1989 for supporting student protesters in 1989 ). Typically, purged leaders fall into two categories. There are those protégés who attempted to step out of the shadow of the ‘paramount’ leader. And then there are those