Hu Jintao

Hu protege resurrected ahead of congress

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am

A protege of President Hu Jintao, who was sacked as Beijing mayor at the height of the 2003 Sars crisis, has made a dramatic political comeback amid a sweeping reshuffle ahead of next month's party congress.

Meng Xuenong, 58, had been appointed deputy secretary of the Communist Party's provincial committee in the coal-rich province of Shanxi, Xinhua reported yesterday.

Li Jianhua, deputy director of the party's central Organisation Department, made the announcement in a meeting with Shanxi officials on Thursday.

Mr Meng had replaced Yu Youjun , 54, the report said, adding that Mr Yu would be appointed to another, unspecified, job. Mr Yu is widely tipped to become minister of culture.

Mr Meng will eventually replace Mr Yu as Shanxi governor after the provincial people's congress approves his promotion.

'Comrade Meng Xuenong has a firm political stance and strong sense of party principles,' Xinhua quoted Mr Li as telling Shanxi officials.

Mr Li praised Mr Meng's experience in leadership, organisation and co-ordination gained during his time in the national capital.

'We believe Comrade Meng ... will make contributions towards promoting Shanxi province's economic development and development in other fields under the correct leadership of the party,' Mr Li said.

In a speech, Mr Meng vowed to work with local officials, promote local economic development and to build a clean government.

Mr Meng was demoted to deputy director of the office in charge of the South-North Water Diversion Project after the Sars epidemic. The timing of a recent series of personnel reshuffles in central ministries and provincial governments has surprised many observers, since personnel changes had not been expected until March, when a new cabinet will be formed to begin a five-year term.

Mr Meng was demoted just months after Mr Hu took over the party leadership from Jiang Zemin in November 2002, when the mainland was gripped by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a disease that originated in Guangdong and spread globally in 2003. The epidemic disease infected some 8,000 people and killed around 800.

Former health minister Zhang Wenkang , a protege of Mr Jiang, was sacked over the handling of Sars. Analysts said the two men were the scapegoats of an internal power struggle and a political compromise between Mr Hu and Mr Jiang.

Mr Meng was a one-time Beijing deputy secretary of the Communist Youth League, a power base of Mr Hu.

On Thursday, the country's top legislature approved the nomination of five new ministers, in a sweeping reshuffle ahead of the 17th National Congress of the party beginning on October 15, when Mr Hu, also general secretary of the party, is expected to consolidate his power by promoting allies to key posts and ousting rivals.