New details about an earlier internal party poll appear to support widely held expectations that Vice-Premier Wang Qishan and party personnel chief Li Yuanchao will be selected for top leadership posts at the upcoming party congress.
Both men, along with leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang , received approval ratings of more than 95 per cent in a poll of top Communist Party leaders in May, according to a party insider.
The survey of 370 members and alternate members of the party's Central Committee is being cast by party leaders as a significant step towards reform, one that might be institutionalised in the future.
In the poll, members selected preferences for the party's decision-making Politburo, currently a 25-member body, and the Politburo Standing Committee, its inner-most cabinet ahead of the once-in-a-decade leadership change.
The insider would not give the ranking order of the four top vote-getters, but said there was just a "very small margin in differences" between them.
"The top leadership does not want the leak of such results as the vote does not determine the leadership's exact line-up, though it will be a very significant factor in the selection procedure," the source said.
A political commentator at Beijing Institute of Technology, Professor Hu Xingdou , said he was "not surprised at the high approval ratings as the four men are the most popular leaders among officials and citizens".
He said the approval ratings would play a role in bargaining among party factions in the selection process. Leaders believe such polls are a step towards "intra-party democracy", the party's stated goal of giving rank-and-file members greater say.
"The high approval rate has definitely strengthened the case of their promotion," Hu said. "Popularity will matter at the 18th party congress."
The selection process was designed to reinforce the leadership's consensus approach following the abrupt removal of former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai , which many analysts have said was a reflection of the intense rift between the party factions.
The question of central concern is who will be elevated to Standing Committee, with seven of nine current members tipped to step down.
Besides two sure bets - Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who are already on the Standing Committee - Wang Qishan and Li Yuanchao are widely seen as favourites to join the supreme body.
While many expect party leaders to reduce the Standing Committee's membership to just seven this time, there are at least a dozen senior officials vying for the promotion under the party's unwritten rules regarding age, education, achievements and portfolio background. Horse-trading has been intense.
Shanghai party secretary Yu Zhengsheng ; Vice-Premier and acting Chongqing boss Zhang Dejiang ; propaganda chief Liu Yunshan ; Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang ; State Councillor Liu Yandong and Tianjin party secretary Zhang Gaoli are all thought to be in the mix.