China Communists plan expanded say in new leadership

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BEIJING, Oct 19 (Reuters) Chinese President Hu Jintao will give a Communist Party council some say in electing the Party's new core leadership in a breakthrough that could play against unpopular officials linked to his predecessor.

This weekend China's five-yearly Communist Party Congress elects a new Central Committee -- a council of about 200 full members who meet once or twice a year to discuss major decisions.

The more than 2,200 Congress delegates are officials and carefully vetted grassroots Party members who rarely buck at top-down control at the largely ritualistic gathering.

But in an effort to bolster leaders' authority, past Congresses have allotted slightly more candidates than seats on the Central Committee, and unpopular officials have occasionally failed to win enough votes.

Three independent sources told Reuters that Hu will this time also allow the Central Committee itself to choose among slightly more candidates than seats when it in turn votes in the two dozen or more members of the Politburo and the nine-seat Politburo Standing Committee -- the innermost rings of power.

In the secretive, often delicate manoeuvring of Chinese politics, the procedural shift could give Hu a shot of greater legitimacy as he enters five more years in charge of the world's fourth-largest economy.

''Hu knows he's not a Deng,'' said one source, referring to Deng Xiaoping, the late reformist leader who used his prestige to cower rivals and subordinates.

''If you're not a Deng, you can't just call the shots on your own ... With an expanded vote, Hu can say more strongly that he speaks for the Party, not just himself.'' The three sources, all involved or close to Congress proceedings, all spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing punishment for talking to foreign journalists.

LIMITED CHOICES One of them said the vote was likely to provide for just two or so more candidates than seats on the Politburo, expected to expand to about 30 members from two dozen now.

Today, Congress delegates continued discussing a ''preliminary list'' of candidates for the Central Committee, state media reported.

In the past, the vote for the Central Committee has allotted about 5 percent more candidates than seats, but some sources have said this time the margin may expand to as much as 10 per cent.

The secretive gathering has not revealed names and officials have given only vague answers about voting procedures.

But in his Monday work report, Hu promised to give Party members more say, and on Friday the Party's official newspaper stressed that commitment.

The People's Daily noted that Congress delegates had been chosen through an expanded vote, with 15 per cent more candidates than places.

''We are confident that as our country's political system reform deepens, people's democracy will also develop and expand,'' the paper said.

While senior officials guide delegates on how to vote for the Central Committee, the ballot is secret and there have been upsets.

The unpopular conservative ideologue Deng Liqun -- no relation to Deng Xiaoping -- was set to become a stand-by member of the Politburo at the Party Congress in 1987 but was ousted in the vote.

In 1992, Chongqing city Party boss Xiao Yang's chances of becoming a Politburo stand-by member were dashed when he lost in the larger vote, said a Party source who attended the conclave.

This time, Jia Qinglin, ranked fourth in the Party hierarchy but unpopular with the rank and file, faces his biggest test, sources say.

Jia, who was close to Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, has been dogged by accusations of corruption and ties to one of China's biggest smuggling scandals.

But other officials also could come under pressure, said one of the sources. Another said Hu could also find it more difficult to install some of his own subordinates in the Politburo, especially his longtime aide Ling Jihua, seen as ruthless but lacking seniority.

Reuters SYU DB0945

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