Those who think the U.S. electoral college is a complicated system for choosing a leader should take a look at China right now.
Thousands of senior officials from around the world's most populous nation have gathered in Beijing amid heavy security for a week of lengthy speeches and jargon-heavy meetings that began Thursday.
At the end of it all, the once-in-a decade process will unveil a new set of top leaders to the world.
There will be no frenzy of exit polls and ballot counting. The major outcomes of the ruling Communist Party's 18th National Congress, as the event is known, have been determined in advance after months of secretive maneuvering and deal-making among senior party figures.
The method may be arcane, but the result matters for China's 1.3 billion citizens and for countries around the globe like the United States that are trying to decipher what the Asian giant's growing international clout means for them.
The only problem is, nobody's sure exactly what China's new top brass will do once they have assumed power.
During the race for the White House in the United States, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney eagerly brandished their credentials for getting tough on China, with Obama citing trade suits he'd filed and Romney promising to label Beijing a currency manipulator.
China's prospective leaders, however, are a great deal more circumspect about their policies -- both domestic and international -- often speaking in broad, ambiguous terms.
"Chinese leaders don't rise to the top telegraphing what changes they'll do," said Bruce J. Dickson, a political science professor at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs. "They rise to the top showing how loyal they are to the incumbent. What they'll do when they rise to the top -- that's the big question."
What the next decade may bring
Uncertainty breeds speculation, and the unfolding leadership change has generated a wealth of theories from observers about what the next 10 years might hold.
Some say they expect measures to reshape China's huge economy, in which state-owned companies play a powerful role. Others predict the army may have a stronger influence amid rising tensions over territorial disputes with neighbors like Japan.
And rumors continue to circulate about the possibility of democratic reforms as leaders seek greater legitimacy in the wake of a huge political scandal this year involving the former senior party official Bo Xilai, and widespread corruption among officials throughout the country.
Addressing the start of the congress on Thursday, President Hu Jintao warned that the inability to deal with corruption could bring down the party and the state it has controlled for the past 63 years.
"If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party," he told a vast room of delegates in the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing.
A new leader, opaque stances
Whether or not the party succeeds in that battle depends partly on Vice President Xi Jinping, who is set to pick up the post of party chief from Hu, 69, during the congress.
Xi, 59, is expected to become president early next year.
But like most of the other leaders set to surround him at the top of the party, Xi's stance on many key issues remains opaque.
The son of one of Mao Zedong's top lieutenants, Xi is considered a "princeling" because of his family's place in the Communist Party aristocracy. He is also believed to be close to the Chinese military.
In a visit to the United States in February, he talked of the two nations' "interwoven interests" and said they "should reduce misunderstanding and suspicion."
He met with U.S. leaders, including Obama, and returned to a small city in Iowa where he had stayed 27 years previously to learn about agricultural practices.
Although his trip left many none the wiser about the direction in which he is likely to lead China, some observers see reasons for optimism.
"Vocally, he's a nationalist. Psychologically, he greatly hopes to keep good relations with the West, especially the U.S.," said Pin Ho, chairman of Mirror Books, which published a biography of Xi this year. Ho noted that Xi's daughter, Xi Mingze, studies at Harvard under a pseudonym.
Internal challenges await