Months of rumours that Guangdong governor Huang Huahua is set to be replaced by someone from outside the province will be answered in a week's time as the window closes on alternatives.
Mr Huang is seeking a second five-year term as governor, but speculation has been rife for about three months that he will be replaced.
If that is to happen, the candidate will have to be made a member of the Guangdong People's Congress before it meets on January 17, effectively giving the authorities a week to bring in a new official.
Under the mainland system, all senior officials of the provincial party committee and government must be representatives of the Guangdong People's Congress.
'It means that if the new governor is from another province and is not a [Guangdong congress] representative yet, the congress must hold a by-election for him before the coming congress,' a source said.
A Guangdong publicity office spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that the new session of the provincial congress would start in two weeks.
The Guangdong congress' website says the new governor and vice-governors would be elected at the meeting.
Mr Huang, 61, a Guangdong native and member of the Hakka ethnic group, was elected governor in March 2003, a few months after the Sars outbreak in the province.
The source said Mr Huang was still below the maximum age of 65 for senior appointments, but rumours about possible successors began circulating before the Communist Party's 17th National Congress in October.
One report on an overseas Chinese website said Jilin governor and agricultural expert Han Changfu would take over from Mr Huang at the coming congress.
Mr Han, 51, started as the head of the youth work department of the Communist Youth League's Central Committee about 20 years ago.
Some mainland news sources also said former Heilongjiang governor Zhang Zuoyi was in the running for a transfer to Guangdong.
Mr Zhang resigned last week, but it seems his age is a big obstacle. He was born in January 1945, making him almost two years older than Mr Huang.
Guangdong sources have speculated that Mr Huang would be shifted to the All China Federation of Trade Unions or succeed Gao Siren as director of the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong. But a source close to the liaison office said this was impossible.
Although the liaison office director and the Guangdong governorship are at the same level, Mr Gao was only the Guangzhou party secretary before heading to Hong Kong to take on his present job in 2002.
A political analyst said if the governor was changed, it would reflect the central government's attitude towards Guangdong.
He said Beijing had long been concerned about some issues in the province and if a new appointee were not a Guangdong native, it would clearly indicate a desire to strengthen control over the province.
Since 1985, at least one of the two top Guangdong leaders, either the party secretary or the governor, has been born there, and most local officials have regarded that progression as an unwritten rule.
The analyst said an outsider in charge of the Guangdong government might be able to deal with many problems that had built up in the province in the past few decades.
'[These include] the links between some officials and underground gangs,' he said. 'If the new leaders are about to punish them, I think some other local officials may lose enthusiasm.'
He admitted that the relationship between gangs and officials was so complicated in Guangdong that even Zhang Dejiang , the former party secretary, had skirted around the problem.
One analyst said: 'It has caused so many tricky problems in Guangdong in the past few years, and if Mr Zhang had dealt with all the issues at the same time, I believe a large number of the officials might have been toppled.'