Wang Qishan, China’s former formidable anticorruption tsar, has defied political convention to hold on to a seat in the nation’s top legislature, paving the way for him to remain a player in state affairs for years to come.
Wang, 69, stepped down from the supreme, seven-member Politburo Standing Committee in October after reaching the Communist Party’s unofficial retirement age of 68.
The South China Morning Post reported in December that Wang, who rolled out Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented crackdown on graft, was expected to be named vice-president at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s legislature, in March.
In the past two decades, all top state officials, from presidents to ministers, as well as the party’s inner 25-member Politburo, have had seats in the NPC. At the same time, all outgoing and retiring top leaders have not stayed on for the NPC’s next session.
But at a meeting of the provincial legislature of Hunan on Monday, Wang was among 118 provincial legislators selected as deputies to the upcoming national legislature session, official news outlet Rednet.cn reported.
That makes Wang the only senior retiree so far on the list, which will be complete when all provinces have named their deputies.
Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said the arrangement paved the way for Wang’s vice-presidency, but his real power will depend on the president.
“Wang is almost set to become a member of the NPC’s presidium, paving his way to the vice-presidency,” Zhang said.
“There is a precedent of retired party elders taking the job, but Wang’s real power will remain to be seen – it depends on what Xi’s needs are.”
While the party has set its unofficial retirement age at 68 for Politburo members, China’s state laws set no age limits for either the president or the vice-president. Both are only limited to two five-year terms and a minimum age of 45.
The vice-presidency is largely a ceremonial title but the position has been filled by powerful party figures in the last two decades.
Before rising to China’s top job, both Xi and his predecessor Hu Jintao were vice-presidents after securing positions on the Politburo Standing Committee.
But the vice-presidency has become less important since 2013 with the appointment of Li Yuanchao, a Politburo – but not a Standing Committee – member, to the post. Li was largely responsible for receiving foreign dignities. A senior cadre associated with the beleaguered Communist Youth League faction, Li stepped down from the Politburo in October’s reshuffle.
In the late 1980s, Wang Zhen became vice-president after stepping down from the Politburo. He was succeeded in the mid-1990s by Rong Yiren, who was widely know as a “red capitalist” and not known to be a party member until his death.
While Wang Qishan’s track record in solving problems, from cracking down on corruption to defusing financial crises, could be partly why Xi wants to keep Wang on in an equally significant role, some analysts have also said Wang’s continued presence could send a strong message about Xi’s ongoing commitment to his anticorruption campaign.