"It's a power game," said Zheng Yongnian, a China politics expert at the National University of Singapore. "The Standing Committee doesn't function well. They all have to agree, and there are too many checks on each other, so nothing gets done."
If not gridlock, the incremental, step-by-step policy-making of the past comes as China confronts slowing growth, a cavernous rich-poor gap and a clamor for change, in protests and on the Internet, for better government and curbing corruption and the privileges of the politically connected elite.
"Even for a coherent leadership, those problems are challenging, not to mention a divided leadership, which hasn't consolidated its own power base," said Zhu Jiangnan of Hong Kong University.
Unlike the stiff, ultra-reserved Hu, the 59-year-old Xi exudes a comfort with his authority, as befits the son of a hero of the revolution born into the Communist elite. Like Xi, the rest of the leadership came of age as China reopened universities and reached out to the world after the isolation of Mao Zedong's radical rule. As such, their educational backgrounds are more varied than those of Hu and the engineers he led, and they're believed to be more open to ideas.
Charisma is feared by the party, which promotes capable administrators. Bo Xilai, a telegenic top politician once considered a candidate for the leadership, was purged this year in a scandal that buffeted the party. Though he is accused of corruption and aiding the cover-up of his wife's murder of a British businessman, his crime may have been his populist rhetoric and policies that gave him a popular following, but alienated other leaders.