Xi Jinping to Replace Hu Jintao as Prez in March

K J M Varma/Beijing
Xi Jinping to Replace Hu Jintao as Prez in March

China's 'princeling' Xi Jinping was today crowned the new head of the ruling CPC and the powerful military in a smooth transition to steer the world's second largest economy over the next decade, ending the 10-year reign of President Hu Jintao amid concerns over rampant corruption and widening rich-poor divide.

59-year-old Xi, who was the Vice President till now, will replace Hu as President in March, while Li Keqiang, 57, will succeed Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, capping years of jockeying within the Communist Party of China, the world's biggest political party which has monopolised power here since 1949.

Shortly after he was elected CPC General Secretary in a carefully choreographed event held at the ornate Great Hall of the People here, a confident-looking Xi stepped on to a special stage in front of a large local and foreign media and introduced six other 'fifth generation' leaders, who together formed the party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

Sounding candid in his first speech, he spoke of the rampant corruption within the party and its alienation from people, identifying them as major issues to be addressed.

"Under the new conditions, our party faces many severe challenges, and there are also many pressing problems within the party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, being divorced from the people, going through formalities and bureaucratism caused by some party officials," he said.

"We must make every effort to solve these problems. The whole party must stay on full alert," Xi said.

It was a head-start for Xi unlike his predecessor Hu as he was also appointed military chief today, making him the most powerful leader in the country.

An official announcement said that Xi will also be the head of the Central Military Commission, which controls the Command structure of 2.3-million strong People's Liberation Army (PLA), the world's largest standing military. Xi was earlier the Vice Chairman of the Commission.

Hu had to wait for two years to get the top military position after becoming the CPC chief in 2002 as his predecessor Jiang Zemin, regarded as the 'Big Boss' of the party, remained head of the Military Commission even after quitting as the General Secretary of the party.

Hu's move to step down from the military surprised many as he carried out a major reshuffle of the PLA command recently, packing it with Generals groomed by him.

He apparently believes that retired leaders should not have any active role in the present administration and the new leadership should be given free hand to carry out the fresh policies to revive the sluggish economy and deal with other challenges facing the country.

Former President Jiang, however, took the centre stage at the week-long 18th Party Congress, both at its inaugural and valedictory meetings sitting between Hu and Wen.

Ten years after his retirement as CPC chief, Jiang, 86, continued to be "backroom boss" of the Party earning the tag of "king maker" as most of the leaders who got elected to the Central Committee yesterday were reportedly close to him

Vice Premier Li, a protege of Hu, was elevated to number 2 position in the Standing Committee.

The other members of the Committee included Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang; Shanghai party chief Yu Zhengsheng; Propaganda chief Liu Yunshan; Vice Premier Wang Qishan; and Tianjin party head Zhang Gaoli.

Wang, a top economist, has been appointed as the head of the anti-corruption unit of the Party and is expected to carry out a big campaign against tainted officials.

In many ways, it is a new era for China as Xi and some other latest appointees were 'princelings' or 'hereditary' Communists by virtue of being the children of influential Party leaders.

Xi is the son of former Deputy Premier Xi Zhongxun, who later fell out of favour with Mao for his moderate views and relegated to obscurity. Xi Zhongxun was also imprisoned for some time.

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