BEIJING, Oct 22 (Reuters) China's ruling Communist Party today unveils a new leadership line-up to steer the world's fourth-biggest economy for the next five years, with President Hu Jintao likely to promote younger potential successors.
The new membership of the Politburo Standing Committee -- the innermost ring of power in China's authoritarian government -- will emerge after a closely controlled vote by the party's 204-member Central Committee, installed at the end of its five-yearly Congress on Sunday.
It is already known that three members of the outgoing Standing Committee will step down. Among them are Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, a powerful figure installed by Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin.
Their departure indicates that Hu, who doubles as party and military chief, will be able to promote potential successors into the leadership core. Hu will retain his seat in the Standing Committee along with Premier Wen Jiabao and parliament chief Wu Bangguo.
There's a fourth vacancy after the death of vice-premier Huang Ju in June.
But intense secrecy has surrounded who and how many officials will be recruited into the politburo -- an elite council of 20-odd members -- and the all-powerful Standing Committee.
SURPRISES Sources have told Reuters that the vote for the politburo will have slightly more candidates than seats, allowing for possible surprises.
The membership of the two elite bodies will tell how much power Hu wields, how he intends to use it and who his potential successors and rivals are -- crucial questions as the country's influence rises through rapid economic growth and increasing international involvement.
Most analysts expect a mixture of promotions -- some close to Hu, others not so -- reflecting both Hu's bid to balance regions and interests and also limits on his power to dictate outcomes.
Leading contenders include Li Keqiang, 52, party boss of the northeastern industrial province of Liaoning, who worked under Hu in the Communist Youth League.
But the inner core is also likely to include Shanghai party boss Xi Jinping, 54, and other faces who do not have longstanding ties to Hu.
Before taking over as party boss of Shanghai, Xi steered two of the country's fastest-growing provinces, Fujian and Zhejiang.
Other officials widely expected to rise include He Guoqiang, who will be in charge of investigating corrupt officials and who analysts consider a protege of Zeng.
Zhou Yongkang, the country's police chief credited with creating a more professional and powerful force, is touted to replace hardline security boss Luo Gan.
But two holdovers from Jiang's time -- Jia Qinglin, the top adviser to parliament, and ideology tsar Li Changchun -- appear likely to stay. Jia has long been dogged by claims he let corruption run rampant in coastal Fujian province in the 1990s.
At 67, Jia is young enough to escape an informal retirement rule forcing out leaders born before 1940 -- a demand that apparently claimed Zeng.
Reuters RKM VP0540