China’s National People’s Congress has named Li Keqiang as the next prime minister, as a once-a-decade leadership transition nears its conclusion.
As delegates in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing applauded on Friday, Li stood up, bowed and shook hands with Xi Jinping, who was named as China’s new president on Thursday, and his predecessor Wen Jiabao.
Li received 2,940 votes out of 2,949 cast, a 99.69 percent vote share, slightly lower than Xi’s.
“I announce that comrade Li Keqiang has been chosen as premier of the People’s Republic of China,” said Yan Junqi, a vice-chairwoman of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament.
An English-speaking career bureaucrat, Li, 57, will oversee a sprawling portfolio of domestic and economic affairs, although real decision-making takes place in the top committee of the Communist Party, on which he also sits.
Zhou Qiang, a former Communist party secretary of Hunan province who is seen as an associate of former leader Hu Jintao, was named president of China’s supreme court.
Li and other top leaders took charge of the ruling party four months ago, and their stage-managed selection to the top government posts during the National People’s Congress (NPC) session this week formalises their authority.
The prime minister is technically nominated by the president and reviewed by the legislators, and the term officially lasts five years but is normally followed by a second one.
Li takes charge of the world’s second-largest economy as its breakneck growth has steadily slowed and the need to rebalance away from investment and exports and towards domestic consumption looms.
Restructure the economy
In his earlier position as one of Wen Jiabao’s vice-premiers, observers praised him for helping China navigate the global financial crisis and pushing forward efforts to restructure the economy.
But like Wen he might face resistance to changes among the provinces and ministries.
Li will run the State Council, or cabinet, along with a number of vice-premiers, who will be named on Saturday, and state councillors, and oversee several dozen ministries and commissions.
“The State Council is responsible for carrying out the principles and policies of the Communist Party of China,” the country’s official government website explains.
The son of a party official in the poor eastern province of Anhui, Li was sent to the countryside to do manual labour as were many youths during the tumultuous 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
While overseeing central Henan province in the 1990s, he was criticised for dealing poorly with an HIV/AIDS epidemic that resulted from a tainted blood donation scheme, targeting activists and the media rather than officials.