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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

China's elite vie for power

BEIJING: Jockeying for the most powerful jobs in China has already begun, with almost a year to go until the Communist Party's elite meet to approve the new appointments.

The latest hints about who is in line for possible elevation to the politburo came with the weekend appointment of Li Yuanchao, 55, as party secretary of the wealthy eastern province of Jiangsu.

The appointment gives Mr Li a second term in the region's top job and underlines his likely bright future.

Preparations for the 17th party congress, which is to take place next autumn, are under way.

The congress will mark only the second leadership transition since the Communist Party took power in 1949.

The influential Organisation Department announced this week it would increase by 100 the number of party representatives who will take part in the five-yearly congress, where leadership changes are approved and new policies adopted.

This year, 2220 delegates will take part, reflecting an increase of six million members that has created the 70.8million-strong Communist Party over the past five years.

But any real influence the delegates have in selecting a new party central committee, politburo and politburo standing committee, or in deciding national policy for the next five years, is certain to be limited.

Most decisions will be taken during months of discussion and a final few frantic weeks of negotiating among rival groups before the congress.

At risk is the stability of China and the party's ability to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

The appointment of Hu Jintao as party leader four years ago marked the first time a designated heir-apparent took over as China's communist leader.

Chairman Mao's first choice as heir was killed in an air crash in 1971 after a failed coup attempt. His second was ousted within two years of Mao's death by Deng Xiaoping, and has since lived in obscurity.

Mr Deng dismissed two chosen proteges after they failed to curb student unrest, settling in 1989 on Jiang Zemin, the party chief of Shanghai at the time.

Mr Deng manoeuvred Mr Hu into position as the heir to Mr Jiang. The President rarely speaks in public, leaving political pundits little choice but to guess at his aims.

Li Yuanchao is one of the three names most frequently heard in discussions on who Mr Hu plans to anoint when lining up a new politburo next year.

The President is almost certain to serve out another five years in the top job, but he is already manoeuvring his favourites into place. The re-election of Mr Li, a colleague of Mr Hu when both worked in the secretariat of the Communist Youth League more than 20 years ago, is one such move.

Many other top contenders are veterans of the Youth League, which grooms members for party office. Most prominent is Li Keqiang, 51, party chief of northeastern Liaoning province.

He worked as a league leader from 1983 to 1998 and was first secretary of the Youth League central committee for the last five of those years.

Another name often heard is that of Xi Jinping, 53, who runs the booming eastern province of Zhejiang. He is the son of a Communist revolutionary and is an engineering graduate from Tsinghua University in Beijing, where the President studied.

The Times
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