Hunan party chief Zhou Qiang was named the mainland's top judge yesterday while prosecutions chief Cao Jianming was reappointed for another five years.
Zhou, 52, won 2,908 votes of the 2,957 effective ballots cast by National People's Congress deputies to become president of the Supreme People's Court, succeeding unpopular 66-year-old Wang Shengjun. Cao, 57, received 2,933 of the 2,956 votes cast to win reappointment as procurator general of the Supreme People's Procuratorate. A legal scholar, he was vice-president of the Supreme People's Court before being made the country's top prosecutor in 2008. Both elections were uncontested.
A source at the Supreme People's Procuratorate said: "Aside from being an expert in legal affairs, Cao is also a clever and easy-going man who always has things done in an orderly way. I welcome his staying put, which will make our work more consistent."
Unlike Cao, who remained impassive on the NPC presidium when his reappointment was announced yesterday, Zhou smiled and broke into laughter when his appointment was greeted by lengthy applause from other presidium members, including Shaanxi party boss Zhao Yongzheng and Peking University president Zhou Qifeng. Guizhou party secretary Zhao Kezhi, sitting two seats away, tried to shake his hand.
The mysterious death of Tiananmen dissident Li Wanyang in Shaoyang , Hunan, in June did not damage Zhou's political prospects.
Zhou told reporters in the Great Hall of People: "I will answer the call of the people and further push forward rule of law."
When asked by Hong Kong reporters to comment on Li's case, Zhou ignored the question.
Some analysts said Zhou's chance of promotion to the Communist Party's Politburo in 2017 would be slimmer after his appointment as top judge. But others suggested otherwise, saying he stood a good chance of replacing Meng Jianzhu , 65, as the country's top security official.
Beijing-based independent political analyst Chen Ziming said: "I personally think that Zhou boasts at least an 80 per cent of chance to land Politburo membership … which, in my opinion, is also the wish of the central leadership, including [party general secretary and president] Xi Jinping ."
The South China Morning Post was the first to predict Zhou's promotion to top judge in November, days before the end of the Communist Party's 18th national congress. But in recent weeks, overseas reports suggested he was also a contender to become procurator general.
Additional reporting by Teddy Ng