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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chinese Power Change Unpredictable

BEIJING — After months of furtive jockeying for position, China's Communist Party elite was shown a list of candidates on Monday for a new generation of leaders expected to take over from President Jiang Zemin and others this week.

But delegates at the 16th Party Congress refused to give details of nominees for the Central Committee, reinforcing the secrecy around a sweeping leadership change that party sources say will leave ultimate power still in Jiang's hands.

Conflicting rumors flew about the new Politburo Standing Committee, the pinnacle of power, whether it would be expanded, how many allies Jiang could place on it and whether he would keep one of his three posts.

The five-yearly congress, which opened Friday, was supposed to mark the first orderly succession in the history of Communist China, but the continuing uncertainty shows how its political system remains entirely opaque and unpredictable.

Although never officially announced, Vice President Hu Jintao, 59, is expected to take over as party chief on Friday after leaders over 70 years old, including parliament chief Li Peng and Premier Zhu Rongji, quit party posts, Chinese sources say.

Jiang has secured promotion of at least four key allies, including his main protege, Zeng Qinghong, to the new Politburo Standing Committee, the party's top decision-making body, which now has seven seats, they say.

Beyond that, there is still a range of possibilities — including expanding the Standing Committee to nine people and Jiang keeping his third post as head of the military, they say.

"There are so many different versions of the new leadership flying around," one Western diplomat said. "It's impossible to predict — except that Jiang will have his cronies in there."

Even party sources say the final lineup will not be known for sure until the new Standing Committee emerges from behind a screen in the Great Hall on Friday.

However, the list of candidates for the new Central Committee could offer some clues — although the leadership changes are decided in advance, the congress goes through a carefully choreographed election process. If Jiang or anyone else is not on the list, they will likely not hold seats on the new Politburo or its Standing Committee, party sources say.

The 2,114 congress delegates formally elect a new Central Committee of about 300 on Thursday, which then holds its first meeting the next day to choose from its members the Politburo and Standing Committee.

Over the next three days, delegates discuss the candidate list, expected to have about 5 percent more names than there are seats on the Central Committee, and hold preliminary votes to make sure everything goes according to plan, party sources say.

If Jiang and others are on the list, it does not necessarily mean they will retain their leadership posts as there are precedents for retired leaders staying on the Central Committee.

Most famous is Hua Guofeng, Chairman Mao Zedong's chosen successor who was ousted by Deng Xiaoping after only a few years. Deng, by contrast, left the Central Committee in 1987 but remained head of the Central Military Commission, which commands the army, for two more years and paramount leader until his death in 1997.

Jiang would like to retain power from "behind the curtain" like Deng, but lacks his charisma or revolutionary credentials, party sources say. His influence, therefore, depends on retaining a formal post or promoting allies to the new leadership, they say.

One option is to stay on as CMC chairman as he is backed by top generals whom he appointed, some say. But others say that would undermine the whole idea of orderly succession.

Jiang has already secured a Standing Committee seat for Zeng, his main adviser and hatchet man who stepped down as head of the party's organization department last month, party sources say.

Three more Jiang allies — former Beijing party boss Jia Qinglin, Shanghai's ex-party chief Huang Ju, and Vice Premier Wu Bangguo — are reckoned certain to become Standing Committee members by several unconnected party sources.

Jiang hopes to become the final arbiter of political reform after his "Three Represents" theory, which sanctions private entrepreneurs joining the party, is written into its constitution at the congress, analysts say.