Hours before Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the US presidential election on Wednesday, Beijing announced guidelines for arguably the most important election in China in five years.
A statement from the party’s Central Committee said the election of delegates for the 19th party congress to be held next year had started.
The delegates will vote on who will serve in the party’s top leadership for a five-year term.
Among the criteria for selection, political loyalty appeared to be key. “[They] must firmly insist on the ideals of communism, and [have] self-confidence in the Chinese socialist path and theories,” a spokesman for the Central Organisation Department told Xinhua.
“[They] must firmly implement the policies of the party … and remain highly consistent with the party’s central leadership with comrade Xi Jinping as the core in mind and action.”
A total of 2,300 delegates will be elected by 40 electoral units spread across the country and
the voting will be completed by June next year, according to the statement from the Central Committee.
The 40 electoral units come from 31 cities and provinces plus other constituencies covering areas such as the military and state-owned enterprises.
The delegates will meet during the second half of next year to vote for more than 350 full and alternate members of the Central Committee. They in turn will elect members of the 25-strong Politburo and its Standing Committee, as well as the general secretary, a position Xi is likely to retain for at least another five-year term.
The elections come amid concern for political loyalty at a level unseen in decades.
A party plenum last month warned that some former senior cadres had tried to form their own factions and were involved in conspiracies to seize important positions.
Speculation has been mounting that the party’s anti-graft chief Wang Qishan, 68, who is also a Politburo Standing Committee member, will remain in power, after a senior party researcher said rules on retirement age were only “folklore”.
The comment also raised concern over whether other officials in the Politburo, including Xi, will stay in office after reaching retirement age in 2022.
In that case, Xi would not have to finalise his successor before his second term started next year, as his predecessors have done since the 1990s.
Traditionally, the party chief-in-waiting spends at least five years in the Standing Committee before the official crowning.
The statement also urged caution against vote-rigging after the top legislature announced in September it had discovered vote-buying among national lawmakers, and expelled 45 national legislators from Liaoning province who were elected in 2013.