China’s leader Xi Jinping has become president, completing the formal transition of power to a new generation in the world’s second-largest economy.
The country’s legislature appointed him with a ritual ballot at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Delegates supported the sole candidate by 2,952 to one, with three abstentions.
It was China’s second orderly succession since Communist party rule began in 1949.
Xi’s real power stems from his position as general secretary of the party and accompanying role as chairman of its military commission, the positions he took over from Hu Jintao last November.
In reality, Xi had been chosen by the party elite long before he took over in the once-a-decade shift. Consolidating his authority is also an ongoing process in a collective leadership where elders retain strong influence.
Li Keqiang is in line to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier in a similar symbolic ballot on Thursday.
Li Yuanchao was selected vice-president, having failed to reach the Politburo Standing Committee – the top political body – in November.
Jean-Pierre Cabestan, an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong Baptist University, described the job as a “consolation prize” and said the question would be what roles went with it. “I don’t think Xi Jinping, at least at first sight, is going to give him a lot of power. He has to gain the confidence of Xi and that’s not guaranteed,” Cabestan said.
“He’s more of a check and balance, representing the Youth League group or more broadly Hu Jintao’s people. In a sense it underscores the weakening of influence of Hu’s people.”
But Russell Leigh-Moses , dean of the Beijing Centre for Chinese Studies, suggested it was a sign that the party’s reformist wing was holding the upper hand as the collective leadership debated the pace of change. “I think the elevation of Li shows there is a serious effort to shake up the party,” he said.
“Xi is part of this; Li is part of this. It’s lower ranking cadres to whom they are appealing to support the new changes … Reform [for them] is about making the party stronger, smarter and shrewder; more able to govern the country.”
The new administration faces growing challenges in areas ranging from social inequality and environmental damage to foreign policy.
Xi, the princeling son of a revered revolutionary, has made his mark already with a drive to crack down on corruption and bureaucracy, pitching his message to the public in simple, effective language.
He has embraced the military with high profile visits, journeyed to the south in Deng Xiaoping’s footsteps to hint at economic reforms, headed to impoverished villages and spread the optimistic message of the “Chinese dream”.
But analysts warn that implementing the changes China needs will mean challenging powerful vested interests and many observers are sceptical about how effective the anti-corruption campaign will prove.
Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong told Associated Press: “He has to walk a fine line.
“If he were really serious about going after senior cadres, he might establish his authority within the rank and file, however, that would also jeopardise his relationship with the power blocs and with the holders of vested interests.”