Of the 2,956 delegates of China's parliament present, 2,952 voted for Mr. Xi, one against
The Communist Party of China’s new leader Xi Jinping was on Thursday formally appointed as China’s President, bringing to a conclusion the party’s four month-long, carefully choreographed, once-in-ten year leadership transition.
Mr. Xi (59), who was chosen as the CPC’s General Secretary in November, was approved by the National People’s Congress, a largely rubber-stamp Parliament, in an elaborate selection process at the Great Hall of the People here on Thursday morning.
Of the NPC's 2,963 delegates, 2,956 were present and cast their ballot, with 2,952 voting for Mr. Xi. One vote was recorded against him, and three representatives did not cast their vote.
As the results were announced, the CPC General Secretary bowed before the Congress and shook the hand of his predecessor Hu Jintao, who will now step down after a decade in office that saw an unprecedented rise in China’s economic and global influence, but also left behind a range of challenges for his successors from corruption in the party and environmental pollution to rising inequality.
Mr. Xi, in the months since taking over as the head of the party, has been quick to consolidate his control, starting with pushing forward ambitious administrative reforms, approved by the NPC on Thursday, to reduce the number of Cabinet-level ministries with an aim to increase efficiency in the government.
The new leader has also shown a markedly different leadership style from Mr. Hu. He has already carved out a more populist image – for instance, by launching a high-profile campaign against government waste and extravagance. He also appeared to pay greater attention to his public image, particularly by being mindful of China's growing and increasingly influential Internet community.
In a meeting with officials earlier this week, Mr. Xi pointedly made a reference to calls by Internet users daring local officials to swim in rivers, to highlight the problem of pollution. Mr. Xi was widely praised for doing so on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging platform, which is used by more than 300 million Chinese.
While Mr. Xi has portayed the image of a more down-to-earth leader in his first few months in office, his leadership style has also led to rising expectations that the new government will be bolder in pushing through long-discussed political and economic reforms, such as moves to force officials to declare their assets publicly and to curtail the influence of State-owned companies. One Beijing political analyst cautioned that fulfilling those rising expections is likely to be far from straight-forward even for a leader like Mr. Xi, who has been quick to consolidate power and enjoys backing across the political spectrum, from fellow "princelings" to the People's Liberation Army.
On Thursday, Politburo member Li Yuanchao (63) was, as expected, chosen as Xi’s Vice President, receiving 2,839 votes in his favour and 80 votes against.
Thursday’s selection process was, however, predetermined: while voting was described by State media as a “one-candidate election”, the candidates were decided well in advance at the party’s internal deliberations. Delegates can, however, vote for or against the listed candidate and also list a candidate of their choosing, although the NPC usually strictly follows the Party’s lead in selecting representatives.
Mr. Xi last year was appointed as General Secretary of the CPC and as Chairman of the Party's Central Military Commission – his two most important titles and sources of his power. The NPC on Thursday also approved Mr. Xi's appointment as the head of the government's military commission. The positions of President or head of the government, and Vice President are largely ceremonial roles.
For the new Vice President Mr. Li, however, the appointment will boost his standing, analysts say. Mr. Li, who rose through the Communist Youth League and has close ties with both Mr. Xi and his predecessor Mr. Hu, is seen as among the CPC’s more reform-minded officials. As the head of the party’s Organisation Department, which controls personnel appointments, Mr. Li sought to introduce greater intra-party democracy and transparency, although he only met with limited success.
Mr. Li, who sits on the 25-member Politburo and is expected to serve only one five-year term as Vice President, missed out on a position on the CPC’s highest body, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, last year. He is now likely to be promoted to the elite inner circle in five years’ time when five of the current members – besides Mr. Xi and second-ranked Li Keqiang – step down and make way for younger leaders, including Mr. Xi’s eventual successor.
On Friday, the NPC is expected to approve Mr. Li Keqiang’s appointment as Premier, while the new State Councillors – including China’s next top diplomat – and ministers of the cabinet will be chosen on Saturday, bringing the annual session of parliament to a close.