Outgoing premier Li Peng won a new lease on political life yesterday when 88.9 per cent of deputies at the legislative session confirmed him as chairman of the National People's Congress. Of the 2,942 deputies in the Great Hall of the People, 200 voted against him and 126 abstained. While the number of abstentions and votes against him was large by Chinese standards, overall support for Mr Li was similar to the vote that confirmed him as premier five years ago. Sources close to the Li camp said the 69-year-old Politburo stalwart was happy with the result and was ready to use the NPC as a power base to continue to exercise his influence. Mr Li, executive chairman of the NPC presidium, stood up immediately after the votes were tallied and proclaimed 'Li Peng was elected NPC chairman.' However, he was immediately reminded by an aide that election marshals had to read out the votes collected by seven unofficial candidates. Even though Mr Li was the only designated candidate, 23 deputies cast votes for NPC executive vice-chairman Tian Jiyun. Five each went to outgoing NPC chairman Qiao Shi and former electronics minister Hu Qili, both leaders of the liberal camp. After these invalid votes were read out, Mr Li stood up a second time and declared himself elected, triggering laughter among delegates and journalists present. The vote count was not reported by official television stations and news agencies. NPC sources said Mr Li had expected fierce competition from Mr Tian, who was re-elected NPC No 2 with 98.6 per cent of the vote. A long-standing political foe of Mr Li, Mr Tian was able to keep his position largely due to aggressive lobbying by his mentor, Mr Qiao. Analysts said the unprecedented number of Politburo members and ex-ministers in the NPC leadership meant that, in theory, Mr Li should be able to push through legislative programmes even more effectively than his predecessors.