Zhu Rongji

Bear hugs add spice to predictable 'ballot'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 March, 2008, 12:00am

Zeng Qinghong broke with tradition yesterday when he stepped down from the political stage, giving warm hugs to his successor and colleagues in front of thousands of National People's Congress deputies.

Smiling and looking relaxed, Mr Zeng stood up after his successor, Xi Jinping, was formally appointed state vice-president.

He turned to Mr Xi to shake hands and gave him a warm hug, to the surprise of spectators as it is an unusual gesture for a state leader to make in public, especially during a national event like the NPC annual session.

Then Mr Zeng walked to President Hu Jintao and NPC chairman Wu Bangguo and gave each a bear hug.

Mr Zeng, 69, did not hug Premier Wen Jiabao , who sat next to him, although he shook hands with him after he hugged the other three men. Following the meeting he put his arm around Mr Wen as they walked together.

The almost 3,000 NPC deputies cast ballots yesterday to select the state president, vice-president, chairman of the Central Military Commission, NPC chairman, NPC vice-chairmen, NPC secretary general and its Standing Committee.

But except for the election for the Standing Committee, the number of candidates matched the number of seats - and some NPC deputies vented their discontent by subtly injecting some humour into the 'election show'.

Deputies are allowed to nominate candidates to replace those they have voted against - so some odd nominations brightened an otherwise sober event.

Former president Jiang Zemin was nominated for the post of state president while Mr Hu was nominated as NPC chairman.

But the most daring nomination was that of former premier Zhu Rongji as CMC chairman instead of the incumbent, Mr Hu.

Five delegates nominated Li Keqiang as vice-president.

Mr Li was once tipped to succeed Mr Hu but lost out to Mr Xi and now looks likely to succeed Mr Wen instead.