Li Takes China's Helm as Netizens Vote for Liu

2013-03-15
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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) shakes hands with former Premier Wen Jiabao (R) in Beijing, March 15, 2013.
AFP

China's ruling Communist Party on Friday confirmed Li Keqiang as the man who will lead the world's second-largest economy as netizens voted in mock elections for a fantasy president.

Li was "voted" in by the National People's Congress (NPC) by nearly 3,000 hand-picked delegates, and will immediate face the issue of a slowing economy and growing public anger over China's wealth gap, rampant official corruption, and environmental devastation.

China's lengthy leadership transition, which began at the 18th Party Congress in November, is nearly at an end, with the NPC scheduled to approve vice premiers, a central bank governor, and other ministers before the closing session on Sunday.

Li garnered a total of 2,940 NPC votes, with three opposing votes and six abstentions.

The NPC broke with tradition on Friday, however, to vote in progressive reformer Zhou Qiang as head of the Supreme People's Court, while progressive Li Yuanchao became vice-president in spite of being left out of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in November.

However, while state media made reference to Li's recent speeches in favor of "reforms," analysts expect little real political change from the new administration.

Mock vote

To underscore the lack of democracy under Party rule, Chinese netizens held a mock vote for Chinese president on Friday.

Among the 30-some candidates standing against president Xi Jinping by organizer Wen Yunchao were Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou, jailed dissident writer and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, and blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who is currently studying in New York.

"There were a lot of differences between this and China's actual political situation," Wen said. "The online election was open, and the number of votes cast has already passed 6,000."

He said Liu had received "a lot" of votes.

"I can tell you that Liu Xiaobo is still hugely influential in spite of having been in prison for several years," Wen said, but said the final vote hadn't yet been counted.

Ousted former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai also figured on the ballot paper, along with Mao Xinyu, grandson of late supreme leader Mao Zedong, and Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan.

'An elaborate drama'

Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said China's change of leadership will mean little in the way of real change.

"The new Party dynastic leader Xi Jinping was crowned recently, and put on an elaborate drama about listening to public opinion," Hu said via Twitter.

"However, it's just a modern re-run of The Emperor's New Clothes."

Shortly after, Hu was summoned by state security police and held for eight hours, beaten, and insulted, he told RFA's Mandarin Service.

"Of course from their point of view, this is coronation day," he said. "Otherwise, they could have done it a day earlier or a day later."

"They wanted to give me a warning from the new government, now that we've got a new emperor, to let everyone know how tough he is," Hu said.

Popular anger

The NPC confirmed Xi Jinping as president on Thursday, amid widespread popular anger over pollution and corruption and calls for political change.

Xi, who is already general secretary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, had only one vote against him out of the nearly 3,000 possible votes and just three abstentions.

Xi and Li take charge in the wake of a high-profile political scandal surrounding Bo Xilai, and while Xi has vowed to crack down on graft and official excess, he has warned the Party not to repeat the mistakes that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

Analysts said that Xi's administration shoulders a legacy from outgoing president Hu Jintao of popular anger over toxic smog, polluted drinking water, and hazardous foodstuffs, as well as the lawless behavior of the rich and powerful.

Commenting on the appointment of Zhou Qiang, Shandong lawyer Liu Weiguo said that it is hard to see how a new Supreme Court chief could change anything on his own.

"Whoever is [in power], we won't see a huge change, because whatever their personal point of view, or influence, they won't be able to affect the entire system," he said.

"For one person to be able to make positive or negative changes, you would need to see changes across the whole system."

However, the leadership has rejected a chorus of calls in recent weeks from scholars and rights activists for a move towards genuine political change, giving it limited scope to achieve anything much, analysts said.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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Wales

Coronation Day for the Party Imperium (dang tianxia), how very exciting..... Didn't waste any time about giving Hu Jia a beating just to show how tough the new Party top oligarch is.

Mar 17, 2013 01:08 PM