01/17/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Hu Jintao should cede the presidency to his former rival

Sources in the Communist leadership are saying that within the party there is one faction that is pushing for Zeng Qinghong, the last member of the Shanghai gang, to replaced Hu as president. The decision should come at the next annual meeting of the People’s National Congress.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Hu Jintao has been urged to cede the presidency to Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, a rival-turned-ally, and focus on extending Communist Party power as party general secretary, sources close to the top leadership said. Mr Hu, who is president, party leader and commander in chief of the armed forces, should make the change at next annual National People’s Congress.

Although it is not clear whether the request will be heeded, the fact that it is raised is a sign that a debate is going on within the top leadership of the Communist regime

"There are voices in the party saying that it is no longer necessary for one person to hold all three positions," one source said.

A second source said that this would represent a return to the system under Mao Zedong, when the top political spots where filled by four different people.

The practice continued under leader Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s, but changed when Jiang Zemin came to power in 1989.

For some observers, Jiang was given top state, party and military posts to bolster his relatively weak position inside the communist leadership. After Jiang gradually relinquished power, Hu replaced him in all posts.  

While some analysts believe giving up the presidency might be seen as a sign of weakness, others say it could show Mr Hu's confidence in his grip on power. However, it is a difficult decision since the president is the one who maintains relations with the world.

Having Mr Zeng take the presidency opens other possibilities. He is the last member of the Shanghai gang, Jiang Zemin’s power base. From being rivals, he Zeng has become Hu’s ally and has backed all his decisions.  Sharing top positions seem more of a way of keeping power by preventing any fall out.

Even the decision to sack Chen Liangyu as Shanghai party boss for corruption seems to be a blip on the radar designed to strengthen the new alliance.

But for top leaders, the proposal by various intellectuals to differentiate government and party posts is seen as heretical. Several times they have said that the party’s leading role cannot be questioned.

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