The party boss of Sichuan - a protege of President Hu Jintao - has been appointed to head the party's United Front Work Department, according to a statement issued by the party's Central Committee yesterday. Du Qinglin, 51, will replace Liu Yandong, also a close ally of the president who ascended to the all-powerful Politburo at the party's 17th National Congress in October, said the statement posted on the central government's website. The reshuffle is further evidence that officials with a background in the Communist Youth League - Mr Hu's power base - are in the ascendancy. They have dominated the replacement list in the ongoing reshuffle of senior party and government posts following the unveiling of the new leadership lineup last month. Mr Du's vacant post was filled by Liu Qibao, former party head of Guangxi and also an ally of Mr Hu, according to an announcement on Saturday. Mr Du's new post gives him control over the so-called eight democratic parties on the mainland and the party's mass organisations, such as its labour unions and women's groups. Mr Du was praised for his work as minister of agriculture between 2001 and last year, for the prevention of and fight against animal epidemics when bird flu, swine fever and rabies were widespread. His new position will ensure he is elevated to the level of vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the government's top advisory body. The vice-chairmanship will ensure he becomes a national leader, matching the power of a vice-premier or a Politburo member. Mr Du's position suggests he will become one of the key officials overseeing Hong Kong and Macau affairs. Promoting closer ties with Taiwan would also be one of his key priorities. Overseas media reports have widely speculated that Ms Liu, 62, will be appointed a state councillor to succeed retiring Chen Zhili , a close ally of former president Jiang Zemin , to oversee education, family planning and social affairs in the cabinet. A state councillor enjoys the same rank as a vice-premier. A new cabinet will be announced in March when the National People's Congress holds its annual session. Ms Liu holds a doctorate in political science, boasts a background as a Youth League official and is the daughter of a party veteran. With her promotion to the Politburo, she is also the highest ranking female official on the mainland and the body's only female member, following the imminent retirement of Vice-Premier Wu Yi, the 'Iron Lady' of the central government.