China’s National People’s Congress yesterday installed bureaucrat Li Keqiang (李克強) as premier, putting him in charge of running the world’s second-largest economy in one of the final steps of a landmark power transition.
Li, who is expected to be in office for a decade, faces the challenge of steering the country toward more balanced development, with domestic consumption by a larger middle class playing a greater role.
“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 rubberstamp parliament.
To applause from delegates in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Li stood up, bowed and shook hands with Xi Jinping, who was formally appointed president on Thursday, and his predecessor as premier, Wen Jiabao (溫家寶).
Li received 2,940 votes out of 2,949 cast, with three votes against and six abstentions. Like Xi’s election the day before, the result had never been in doubt.
Li, Xi and other top leaders took charge of the Communist Party, where real power lies, four months ago, and their stage-managed selection to the top government posts during this week’s congress formalizes their authority.
Xi has more authority to set policy than Li. In the past the premier has been the face of government, making public appearances when disaster strikes and looking to reassure the public.
Both their terms officially last five years, but are normally followed by a second, totaling a decade in office.
Li, a 57-year-old English-speaking career bureaucrat, will oversee a sprawling portfolio of domestic and economic affairs. He takes charge as China’s breakneck growth has steadily slowed and the need looms to rebalance away from investment and exports and toward domestic consumption.
In his position as one of Wen’s vice premiers, observers praised him for helping China navigate the global financial crisis and pushing forward efforts to restructure the economy.
However, like Wen, he may face resistance to change among the provinces and ministries.
Li will run the State Council, or Cabinet, along with a number of vice premiers — who will be named today — and state councilors, and will oversee several dozen ministries and commissions.
The son of a party official in Anhui Province, Li was sent to the countryside to do manual labour as were many youths during the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
While overseeing Henan Province in the 1990s, he was criticized for dealing poorly with an HIV/AIDS epidemic that resulted from a tainted blood donation scheme, targeting activists and the media rather than officials.
He is expected to hold a rare press conference at the close of the congress tomorrow.
Visible reaction to his election on the nation’s heavily censored microblogs was generally positive, if limited.
One person took heart in Li having a doctorate in economics.
“Now we can look forward to how [he] will change our country’s development model and formulate a national development strategy from a global perspective,” wrote one poster under the name Han Wei.