Chance for Xi to tighten grip on power

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Results of Party Congress will show how powerful he has become

BEIJING Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to tighten his grip on power at a Communist Party conclave this week, cementing his stature as the country's most dominant ruler in decades.

The five-yearly Congress, which opens on Wednesday, will give him a chance to enhance control over the world's second largest economy by stacking the halls with loyalists.

Mr Xi, 64, will undoubtedly be granted the customary second term as general secretary of the Communist Party.

His clout has drawn parallels with Mr Mao Zedong, modern China's founder, and Mr Deng Xiaoping, who spearheaded economic reforms as paramount leader from the 1970s to late 1980s.

During his first term, Mr Xi has already accumulated titles, nurtured a cult of personality, launched crackdowns on activists and more. All of it has been backstopped by a build-up of military muscle.

He also has the jobs of president and chairman of the central military commission.

A clear signal that the age of Xi has begun is if he can fill the new Politburo Standing Committee with allies.

Five members of the council that rules China are set to step down in line with an unofficial retirement age of 68, leaving Mr Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, 62.

But Mr Xi may break with convention and lobby to retain his 69-year-old right-hand man Wang Qishan, the mastermind of the anti-graft campaign that has toppled potential rivals.

If Mr Wang stays on, it would suggest that Mr Xi is above the rules and create a precedent for him to remain in charge of the party even after he turns 69.

"The results of the Congress will show us how powerful Xi has become," said Ms Carly Ramsey, an associate director at consultancy Control Risks. - AFP

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