The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is set to confirm President Xi Jinping for a historic third term as its leader and unveil members of its all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).
Xi’s appointment as the CCP’s general secretary on Sunday will cement his position as China’s most influential leader since Mao Zedong and tilt the country decisively back towards one-man rule after decades of power-sharing among its elite.
The new leadership will be unveiled at 04:00 GMT on Sunday when Xi is expected to walk into Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. He will be followed by the remaining members of the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, in descending order of rank.
The PSC is expected to see at least four new appointments to replace Premier Li Keqiang and members Han Zheng, Wang Yang and Li Zhanshu.
The four were missing from the CCP’s new 205-member Central Committee, which was formally elected on Saturday at the closing session of the Congress, and from whose ranks a 25-member Politburo and the even more elite PSC is chosen.
Li Keqiang, the nation’s second in command, is a proponent of market-oriented reforms, which are in contrast to Xi’s moves to expand state control over the economy. His removal from the PSC, while not unexpected, signals Xi’s continuing tight hold on power in the world’s second-largest economy.
Analysts said the omission of Li and Wang in particular was a sign the PSC was likely to be stacked with people close to Xi.
Neither is seen to have longstanding relations with Xi, while both have ties with the Communist Youth League, a once-influential group that experts say has lost power under the Chinese president.
A Beijing-based politics scholar, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak with media, told the Reuters news agency that Li had been the lone contrarian voice on the PSC.
“From the looks of it, Xi is free to do anything he wants. It means he no longer faces any resistance or checks and balance in the PSC. All future policies will be carried out according to his will,” the scholar said.
In an unusual moment during the closing ceremony, former President Hu Jintao, who was seated next to Xi, was escorted off the stage.
Looking distressed, Hu, 79, appeared to resist leaving as stewards escorted him out. He had looked slightly unsteady last Sunday when he was assisted onto the same stage.
State media reported late on Saturday that Hu had insisted on attending the session despite being unwell.
“When he was not feeling well during the session, his staff, for his health, accompanied him to a room next to the meeting venue for a rest. Now, he is much better,” Xinhua said on Twitter.
At the Congress, the party also approved amendments to its constitution aimed at cementing the core status of Xi and the guiding role of his political thought within the party, which has about 96 million members.
Among the amendments, the “Two Establishes” define Xi as the “core” leader of the party and his ideas as the guiding principles of China’s future development. The “Two Safeguards” assure Xi’s “core” status within the party and the party’s centralised authority over China.
“Whichever way you look at it, it’s almost a total victory for Xi,” Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the AFP news agency.
The moves will allow Xi to sail through to a third term as China’s president, due to be formally announced during the government’s annual legislative sessions in March.
Xi previously abolished the presidential two-term limit in 2018, paving the way for him to rule indefinitely.