BEIJING: Li Qiang, one of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s most trusted allies, was confirmed as premier on Saturday, as Xi cements his influence on the country’s top leadership.
Li, the former Shanghai party chief who oversaw the city’s gruelling two-month lockdown last spring, was named the successor of outgoing premier Li Keqiang at a meeting of the country’s parliament.
Widely perceived to be pragmatic and business-friendly, Li faces the daunting task of shoring up China’s economy.
The 63-year-old received nearly every vote from the more than 2,900 delegates at the National People’s Congress, a day after Xi was unanimously selected by deputies for a norm-breaking third term as president.
Xi’s motion nominating Li Qiang as premier was read out to the chamber on Saturday morning.
Journalists were asked to leave the chamber as deputies, mostly dressed in dark suits, marked their ballots.
Delegates later applauded as Xi ceremoniously deposited his votes in the ballot box while cheerful traditional music played from speakers.
An electronic screen in the hall displayed 2,936 votes for Li, with only three delegates voting against his appointment and eight abstaining.
Li later took an oath, swearing to be loyal to China’s constitution and to “work hard to build a prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious and great modern socialist country”.
Former top prosecutor Zhang Jun was appointed supreme court president at the same session on Saturday, while Ying Yong, who was party chief of COVID-hit Hubei province in the early months of the pandemic, was selected as procurator-general of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
Unlike almost all previous premiers, Li does not have experience working at the central government level.
Li, who started his career as an irrigation pump station worker near his hometown, rose steadily through local government ranks and was promoted to affluent Zhejiang province’s top job in 2012.
He was Xi’s chief of staff in the early 2000s when the Chinese leader was Zhejiang’s party chief.
In 2017, Li was appointed the party secretary of Shanghai - a sign of the president’s high degree of trust in him.
Now, in his capacity as premier and head of China’s cabinet, the State Council, he will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the country as well as macroeconomic policy.
Outgoing premier Li Keqiang last week announced a growth target of “around 5 per cent” for 2023, one of the lowest in decades, as the world’s number two economy fights stiff headwinds.