BEIJING: Hopes are evaporating that key reform-minded leaders will squeeze into the new team that will lead China for the next five years.
After a year of unprecedented scandals and rising public cynicism, the administration of General Secretary Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will on Thursday hand over to a new team led by their respective deputies, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.
While Mr Xi and Mr Li are seen as capable leaders, with broader exposure to the modern world than their predecessors, many question whether they will have the political capital to limit the privileges of the elite and make officials more accountable.
Such doubts will grow if, as analysts with ties to the Party predict, rising stars Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang fail to join the inner sanctum of power.
"Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang are definitely out," said a Beijing political analyst, Chen Ziming, saying that retired Party elders have intervened to protect their interests.
Mr Li and particularly Mr Wang had advocated that the Party relinquish some of its dominance of political and economic affairs to make more room for civil society.
On Wednesday, the outgoing leader, Hu Jintao, closed the 18th Party Congress after its 2270 members ''elected'' a new 204 member Central Committee.
The new committee will convene on Thursday to confirm what will probably be a 25-member Politburo and seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.
The leadership transition is taking place against a backdrop of rising social, political and economic tension.
Uncertainty is so high that many Chinese analysts are framing the transition in terms of the rise and fall of dynasties, amid accumulating social, political and economic stresses.
"A lot of Chinese think of political development in terms of the dynastic cycle," said Feng Chongyi, a political scientist at the University of Technology, Sydney. Dr Feng, an insider and activist, has ceased paying his Party membership fees but is yet to have his membership formally revoked.
"The Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang leadership is the last opportunity for the Party to start a transition to constitutional democracy to break away from the dynastic cycle," he said.
Mr Xi will on Thursday take the position of General Secretary of the Party. He may also take a second key post, as Chairman of the Central Military Commission, if Mr Hu bows out from all official positions.
If so, Mr Hu will distinguish himself from his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, who hung on to his leadership of the military for two years after stepping down as Party chief.
Mr Jiang fought to retain his influence throughout Mr Hu's reign and is seen to have played the dominant role in shaping the new line-up.
The new leadership duo, Mr Xi and Mr Li, are young enough to retain their positions as General- Secretary and Premier for a full decade.
The identity of leaders in the Politburo Standing Committee - the inner sanctum of power - will be gleaned by the order in which they walk out on stage at the Great Hall of the People. Commentators and sources with close Party ties predict Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yunshan and Wang Qishan will make up the new committee. Under current conventions, these five will be replaced at the 18th Party Congress in 2017.