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Li Keqiang set to be named China's premier

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Li Keqiang is set to be named premier of China at the nation's annual parliamentary gathering on Friday in one of the final steps of a carefully planned once-a-decade power handover.

As head of government Li will oversee a sprawling portfolio of domestic and economic affairs, although real decision-making takes place in the top committee of the Communist Party, on which he also sits.

Li and other top leaders took charge of the ruling party four months ago, and their stage-managed selection to the top government posts during the National People's Congress (NPC) rubberstamp parliament this week formalises their authority.

President and party chief Xi Jinping was "elected" on Thursday with more than 99 percent backing, with just one 'no' vote and three abstentions among 2,956 ballots.

State television repeatedly played footage of senior officials casting their ballots to cheery folk music at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

The premier is technically nominated by the president and reviewed by the legislators, and the term officially lasts five years but is normally followed by a second one, for a decade in office.

Li takes charge of the world's second-largest economy as its breakneck growth has steadily slowed and the need to rebalance away from investment and exports and towards domestic consumption looms.

In his current position as one of Wen Jiabao's vice-premiers, observers have praised him for helping China navigate the global financial crisis and pushing forward efforts to restructure the economy.

But like Wen he may face resistance to changes among the provinces and ministries.

Li will run the State Council, or cabinet, along with a number of vice-premiers, who will be named on Saturday, and state councillors, and oversee several dozen ministries and commissions.

"The State Council is responsible for carrying out the principles and policies of the Communist Party of China," the country's official government website explains.

The son of a party official in the poor eastern province of Anhui, Li was sent to the countryside to do manual labour as were many youths during the tumultuous 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

While overseeing central Henan province in the 1990s, he was criticised for dealing poorly with an HIV/AIDS epidemic that resulted from a tainted blood donation scheme, targeting activists and the media rather than officials.

Fluent in English, he is expected to hold a rare press conference at the close of the NPC on Sunday.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130314/li-keqiang-set-be-named-chinas-premier