The sixth plenum of the 18th party congress of the Chinese Communist Party kicked off yesterday, with hundreds of party leaders gathered in Beijing's heavily-guarded Jingxi Hotel for four days of closed-door talks.
Although the event is about party discipline, one key thing to watch for is whether it will release any signal on the imminent political reshuffle.
Of the seven politburo standing committee members, five will pass the retirement age of 68 and should step down. But the retirement age is informal and can be waived.
Wang Qishan, who spearheads President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive, will turn 69 next year. Will the informal age limit be raised for him to stay on? Should it be, it may also pave way for the 63-year-old Xi to serve a third term after his second expires in 2022.
This sixth plenum is extraordinary for the leadership. Perhaps this also explains why Hong Kong's chief executive election campaign hasn't formally been launched yet, as it can't be high on Beijing's agenda.
But it's likely that once important business is settled at the plenum, the central leaders will turn their thoughts to the SAR. The picture will then quickly become clear with aspirants declaring their candidacy.
About this time in 2011, it was pretty obvious the 2012 CE contest would be pitting Henry Tang Ying-yen - then the chief secretary - against Leung Chun- ying. Although Tang was the heavy favorite early on, Leung won 689 votes from the 1,200-member election committee appointed by Beijing, compared to 285 votes for Tang, to snatch the top post.
While no one has officially declared their candidacy for the next election in March, the hopefuls are nonetheless active.
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah traveled all the way to Silver Mine Bay on Sunday to declare the sky would be fine after the storms. The statement could have had a double meaning, although he was ostensibly referring to the passing of Typhoon Haima.
Meanwhile, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is said to be preparing to step forward if her boss CY isn't standing.It's all but certain Leung will run unless Beijing says otherwise. His chances received a major boost recently - thanks to the oath-swearing farce performed by Youngspiration legislators-elect Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus "Baggio" Leung Chung-hang.
Had the radical pair not gone so far to offend the nation and Chinese as they first tried to take the oath, CY would have found it harder to hit the breakthrough that is turning the tide in his favor.
By challenging Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen's earlier decision to allow the localist pair to retake the oath, the chief executive has succeeded in rallying the entire pro- Beijing camp behind his case. That's a rare achievement, since the pro- establishment bloc had been trying to distance themselves from the deeply unpopular CY during September's Legislative Council election.
The High Court will hear the case next week. If Leung wins, it will be another boost for him. If he loses, he will definitely appeal to the higher court until a final verdict is rendered.
No matter how the matter evolves, it will be advantageous to him. Small wonder the Youngspiration's Leung and Yau are said to be CY's best running mates.
Talk about irony!