As President Xi Jinping gears up for the first meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee following the opening of the 19th party congress last week, speculation is mounting over who will make the new leadership line-up.
The 19th party congress ends on Tuesday, when its 2,000-some delegates have carried out their main task, which is to elect a new Central Committee to steer the party through the next five years.
Then, the new Central Committee will hold its first plenary session, choosing a 25-member Politburo and, crucially, the members of its all-powerful standing committee, which traditionally has seven members, with the final leadership line-up expected to be announced on Wednesday.
Parliamentary chief Zhang Dejiang, anti-corruption czar Wang Qishan, CPPCC chief Yu Zhengsheng and top ideologist Liu Yunshan are expected to make their exit, in keeping with rules governing retirement over the age of 68, according to reports in a number of Hong Kong newspapers.
Hong Kong media predictions expect only Xi and his premier Li Keqiang to remain in their posts.
They will be flanked by vice premier Wang Yang, newly promoted to executive vice premier, current Politburo member Wang Huning, Politburo economic reform architect Zhao Leji, party general office director Li Zhanshu and Shanghai party secretary Han Zheng as head of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), according to the English-language South China Morning Post newspaper.
There had been speculation that Xi could reduce the size of the Standing Committee to five, to further centralize power, but the paper cited sources as saying that is now unlikely to happen.
But the list doesn't include Hu Chunhua and Chen Min'er, both Xi proteges regarded as rising political stars.
A Chinese academic who asked to remain anonymous said the entire selection process has been marked by fierce factional strife behind the scenes, and that names may be being leaked to strengthen the hand of one or another interest group within the party.
"The more chaotic things are [behind the scenes], the more carefully they control information, and I don't think we have even the slightest hint of the real outcome yet," the source said.
"Nobody will dare to leak something that hasn't already been voted on by the Central Committee."
Internal factional power struggle
He said China's political circles and financial markets are currently awash with rumors about the new leadership, but not necessarily coming from reliable sources.
"They have clamped down very tightly on everything, which means that the internal strife must be pretty intense," he said. "And I think that the very tight security ... actually shows their weakness."
Retired Anhui state prosecutor Shen Liangqing said the new line-up will have a profound effect on China's political future.
"Everyone outside [the corridors of power] is desperately trying to make predictions about who will be in the line-up, and who will be retired," Shen said. "Most of the predictions have some kind of logic to them, whether or not they turn out to be true."
"Whoever winds up getting elected will be the result of the internal factional power struggle within the party," he said.
"Under this kind of political system, anyone who makes [into the Politburo standing committee] will have had to get past layer upon layer of selection processes," he said, adding that older leaders may not be required to step down after all.
"That rule about stepping down if you are over 68 [at the end of a five-year term] was never a fixed thing," he said. "It's entirely possible that they may change it, if a consensus can be found to do so."
None of the new appointments or promotions announced later this week will take effect until confirmed by the National People's Congress (NPC) annual parliamentary session in March.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.