Chinese President Hu Jintao stepped aside as ruling party leader Wednesday to clear the way for Vice President Xi Jinping to take China’s helm as part of only the second orderly transfer of power in 63 years of Communist rule.
In a possible break from tradition, Hu may also be giving up his post as head of the commission that oversees the military, which would give Xi greater leeway to consolidate his authority when he takes over.
The new leadership faces daunting challenges including slowing growth in the world’s No. 2 economy, rising unrest among increasingly assertive citizens and delicate relations with neighbouring countries.
In keeping with the widely anticipated succession plans, Hu was not re-elected as a member of the party’s Central Committee on the final day of a pivotal party congress, showing that he’s no longer in the leadership, two delegates said on condition of anonymity because the official list of members had not yet been released.
Delegates said they cheered when the announced results of secret balloting showed that Xi had been unanimously chosen for the committee, a step toward being named to the topmost panel, the Politburo Standing Committee, and becoming party leader as expected on Thursday.
As the final day of the weeklong congress drew to a close in the Great Hall of the People, and after reporters were invited in to watch the proceedings, Hu reminded party leaders of the “glorious mission and heavy responsibilities” entrusted to them.
Sitting on the dais next to Hu was his predecessor, 86-year-old Jiang Zemin, who has emerged as a key power-broker, manoeuvring his allies into the leadership at the expense of Hu.
Hu later shook hands with people in the row behind him on the dais of leaders and walked off the stage.
Previous outgoing leaders have held onto the military post for a transitional period but a top general indicated on Wednesday that Hu would not stay on in the military post.
Asked by Hong Kong reporters if Hu would retain his chairmanship of the military commission, Zhang Qinsheng, deputy chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, said “there is no such arrangement.”
The next line-up of China’s most powerful body, the Politburo Standing Committee, will be announced on Thursday.
Though congress and Central Committee delegates have some influence over leadership decisions, most of the line-up is decided among a core group of the most powerful party members and elders.
The newly selected Central Committee meets on Thursday to select the next Politburo of about two dozen members and from that, the Politburo Standing Committee.
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