Li Yuanchao

Key Hu ally to take over party 'nerve centre'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2007, 12:00am

Jiangsu party chief appointed head of powerful department

A key ally of President Hu Jintao has been appointed to head the Communist Party's powerful Organisation Department, kicking off another round of reshuffles of senior party and government posts after the unveiling of the new leadership lineup early this week.

Li Yuanchao , party chief in Jiangsu and a newcomer of the 25-member Politburo, had taken the place of He Guoqiang , who was elevated to the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee on Monday, Xinhua reported yesterday.

Jiangsu governor Liang Baohua , who turns 62 next month, had taken up the top party post of the province, it said.

Mr Li, 57, a key member of the so-called tuanpai - those with a background in the Communist Youth League, Mr Hu's power base - had been tipped to be promoted to the post, which puts him in charge of personnel affairs of the 73-million- member party.

Mr He, 64, has been named head of the party's top anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

The Organisation Department, which oversees the vetting and appointment of candidates for key party posts, has long been seen as a nerve centre in mainland politics, and its head is usually one of the top leadership's most trusted allies.

Mr Li's predecessors included many famous names in the party's 76-year history, including former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping ; deposed reformist party leader Hu Yaobang ; former National People's Congress chairman Qiao Shi ; Mr Hu's mentor, Song Ping ; and outgoing Vice-President Zeng Qinghong .

For Mr Zeng, the de facto leader of two powerful party factions - the Shanghai Gang and the princelings - who amassed his political influence during his time as Organisation Department head between 1999 and 2002, the post also served as a stepping stone for his later elevation to the country's apex of power.

Along with another Hu protege, Li Keqiang , Li Yuanchao has been seen as an exemplar of the party's next generation of leaders, being young, well-educated, exposed to the outside world and with a good track record in office.

Li Yuanchao, a native of Jiangsu, has a doctorate in law from the Central Party School and trained as an economist at Peking University. He has already been made a member of the powerful Central Committee secretariat, which is in charge of day-to-day affairs for the Politburo and its Standing Committee.

A media-savvy former vice-minister of the State Council Information Office, Li Yuanchao impressed many by giving a rare interview to overseas reporters during the secretive party congress last week.

Although his four years as party chief of affluent Jiangsu garnered much praise, his image was tainted by a pollution disaster on Lake Tai this summer which forced millions of people to go without tap water for days.

His successor, Mr Liang, who rose through the ranks in Jiangsu to become provincial governor in 2003, is best known for his time as party chief in Suzhou from 1998 to 2000.

Some analysts have dubbed Mr Liang and two other former Suzhou party chiefs, Wang Min and Chen Deming , 'the Suzhou Gang' for their quick rise after overseeing the city's economic boom. Mr Wang, the Jilin party boss, has been tipped to replace Commerce Minister Bo Xilai .

Unlike most provincial cadres, who are technocrats, Mr Liang, a Jiangxi native, studied journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai in the 1960s.

But Mr Liang's promotion is believed to be only a transitional arrangement because of his age. The mandatory retirement age for provincial and ministerial officials is 65.

Analysts say Mr Li and Mr Liang's appointments will be followed by more reshuffles of central government ministers and provincial leaders.