The National People's Congress, taking another step to solidify the position of the market-oriented reformers who dominate China's government, electedveteran military leader Yang Shangkun as China's president and Vice Premier Wan Li as chairman of the legislative body.
Yang, the country's top general and an important supporter of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, and Wan, a leading reformist, replace more ideologically orthodox men.Election of the pair to their new posts which are prestigious but largely ceremonial was widely expected as a part of personnel arrangements agreed upon by key Communist Party leaders in private meetings in August.
Yang, 81, wields considerable power, but it stems primarily from the respect he commands in the military, his membership in the Politburo of the Communist Party and his close personal relationship with Deng. In replacing outgoing President Li Xiannian, he will have a highly visible role in meeting visiting heads of state and serving as a national spokesman.
Wan, 71, who achieved prominence a decade ago by pioneering reforms that returned control of farm land to peasant families, is a close political ally of Zhao Ziyang, the reformist general secretary of the party and the man Deng is grooming as his successor.
Wan replaces Peng Zhen, a hard-line critic of many reforms promoted by Zhao. Peng used his position as chairman of the National People's Congress to resist some reforms, particularly enactment of a law that would have given greater power to factory managers. Wan's assumption of the chairmanship is expected to smooth the way for such reformist laws.
The election of Yang and Wan was widely expected in light of the personnel arrangements agreed to earlier in a series of private meetings by top party leaders. Those meetings, in the seaside resort of Beidaihe, set the stage for a transition to generally younger, reform-minded party and government leaders.
In another first, the delegates were given the option of getting up from their seats and going to private booths to mark their ballots in secret. Only a handful did so, however. Also for the first time, the procedure was observed by the foreign press.