CHINA'S imminent leadership transition is descending into ''chaos'', say some close analysts, amid rolling scandals and new signs of factional infighting.
As leaders converge on Beijing for a fortnight of crucial meetings centred around the 18th congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which begins on November 8, party insiders say fresh infighting has erupted over rising star Li Yuanchao.
Mr Li, head of the powerful Organisation Department, has been expected to take a senior post alongside the anointed incoming leader, Xi Jinping, when the line-up for the new Politburo Standing Committee is unveiled on November 15.
The political uncertainty has been amplified by a series of major public scandals including Friday's New York Times report that family members of Premier Wen Jiabao had accumulated $2.7 billion in corporate assets.
On the same day, authorities said they had sent former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai over to prosecutors, after accusing him of serious abuses of power, including in relation to his wife's murder of Englishman Neil Heywood.
Earlier, President Hu Jintao's key powerbroker, Ling Jihua, was removed as head of the party's General Office after being implicated in a cover-up of his son's death in a high-speed Ferrari accident.
Now, Li Yuanchao's fate has been linked to Mr Ling, this time in relation to the manner in which Mr Ling conducted a ''straw poll'' in May that was intended to help guide the leadership transition.
Both Mr Li and Mr Ling are key proteges of Mr Hu.
Several party insiders say Mr Li's fate is the subject of a deepening power struggle between Mr Hu and his predecessor as president, Jiang Zemin.
''It is a state of extreme chaos,'' said political watcher Li Weidong. ''There is no absolute authority, otherwise two sides won't bite each other like this.''
Ho Pin, publisher of the Mingjing website, who has successfully predicted previous leadership line-ups, said Mr Li had been removed from contention for a spot on the Standing Committee.
''Yes, his problem is linked to Ling Jihua,'' he said.
Mr Ho said Mr Ling's problem was ''very serious'', adding that he would soon publish an extensive report.
''Li Yuanchao has been implicated in a conspiracy with Ling Jihua and he has been kicked out by Jiang Zemin,'' said a princeling source, who has ties to officials in the offices of top leaders, citing what he said was the result of a key meeting on October 22.
''It is a big, big mess,'' he said, adding that Mr Li's position had been given to the Shanghai party boss Yu Zhengsheng.
Other sources cautioned that the factional struggles are not over and a new deal could be struck to shore up Mr Li's position.
Mr Hu appears to have won crucial appointments in the People's Liberation Army, particularly the new Chief of the General Staff, Fang Fenghui, as first reported by the Age last Tuesday.
This would suggest Mr Hu is gaining strength in the military while losing it at party central.
Most analysts agree that Mr Xi faces a daunting task in consolidating power in the shadows of Mr Hu and Mr Jiang.