Zeng could retain his top party post

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2007, 12:00am

Surprise Congress secretariat lineup

Vice-President Zeng Qinghong may retain his membership of the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, adding a new twist to the intrigue-ridden 17th National Congress which opens today in Beijing.

Mr Zeng was elected secretary general of the congress' secretariat by more than 2,200 delegates at a preparatory meeting yesterday afternoon, congress spokesman Li Dongsheng said.

The fate of Mr Zeng, ranked fifth in the party hierarchy but arguably the second most powerful man in the elite group after Hu Jintao, the president and party general secretary, has been the talk of the town in the past few weeks. The latest rumour was that the 68-year-old offered to step down to make way for new blood in the party under the condition that his departure would see two allies elevated to the Standing Committee.

At the three previous party congresses, dating to 1992, all secretaries general were later elected to the Politburo Standing Committee, the country's top decision-making agency.

President Hu was secretary general for the 15th and 16th party congresses while Qiao Shi, then National People's Congress chairman, assumed this post at the 14th congress.

Party experts confirmed the importance of this role. Ye Duchu, a professor from the Central Party School and a top communist ideologue, was quoted by mainland media saying the composition of the congress' secretariat, which takes care of the day-to-day affairs of the party congress, served as a 'reference for the next leadership lineup'.

The four deputy secretary generals are propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, party personnel chief He Guoqiang, public security minister Zhou Yongkang and Wang Gang, former director of the General Office of the party Central Committee.

Among them, Mr He, 64, and Mr Zhou, 65, both considered to be from the Zeng camp, have been tipped to become Standing Committee members.

Ling Jihua , one of President Hu's closest aides who has taken over from Mr Wang as the general office director, did not make it to the congress' secretariat - a small surprise according to analysts. For the past three party congresses, the last member of the secretariat was without exception the incumbent director of the General Office.

Xinhua remarked on the surprise outcome by saying 'the list of secretaries general has caught much attention'.

Mr Zeng, former president Jiang Zemin's top strategist, has shown incredible political flexibility in co-operating with President Hu in the past five years. He was widely believed to have played the major role in bringing about Mr Jiang's departure from his last major post - chairman of the Central Military Commission - in 2004 and is in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

Under giant red banners and lanterns yesterday, congress delegates also elected the 237-member presidium to oversee the week-long congress, which is scheduled to pass a revised party constitution expected to enshrine Mr Hu's political platform of 'scientific development and harmonious society'.

The secret intrigues will determine if Mr Hu can promote his top protege Li , 52, party secretary of Liaoning province, to the Standing Committee.

Li Dongsheng, the congress spokesman, confirmed that the congress would close on Sunday and the newly elected Politburo Standing Committee would meet the press.