BEIJING -- Chinese patriarch Deng Xiaoping's anointed successor, Communist Party and military boss Jiang Zemin, was elected to a five-year term as state president yesterday by China's rubber-stamp legislature.
Mr. Jiang, 66, becomes the first Chinese leader since the Maoist era to hold all top party, military and state offices -- a triple crown aimed at bolstering his standing and ensuring political stability.
In the largely ceremonial post of president, he succeeds 86-year-old Yang Shangkun, the latest veteran of the Communist revolutionary struggles of the 1930s to leave high state office.
The long-expected move was the first in a series of orchestrated elections yesterday through tomorrow in which a collective of seven top party leaders will consolidate its hold on key state and military posts.
Chinese and foreign analysts think the elections represent a further attempt by the ailing, 88-year-old Mr. Deng to set his political legacy firmly in place and stifle a potential power struggle among his successors after his death.
Mr. Jiang, a former Shanghai party chief and mayor, rose to the head of the national party in the immediate wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. He has been chosen by Mr. Deng as "the core" of the party's next generation of leadership.
But Mr. Jiang's hold on the party's factions and his prestige within China's military are uncertain.
He also has made a somewhat shaky impression on Western officials, at times responding in private meetings with foreign dignitaries by reading from prepared scripts.
One immediate benefit of becoming president for Mr. Jiang will be that he now can welcome visiting state leaders and travel abroad on state visits. As party chief, he was limited to formal receptions by leaders of the world's few remaining Communist nations.
As in all of the other elections for state offices, Mr. Jiang was the only candidate nominated for president. The vote was 2,858 in favor to 35 opposed, with 25 ballots improperly marked, officials said.
In other voting by the Chinese legislature:
* Premier Li Peng, 64, the second-highest ranking party leader, is virtually certain to be awarded a second, five-year term as premier today -- despite strong criticism here and abroad for his key role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
* Qiao Shi, 68, the third-ranking party leader, long in charge of China's internal security apparatus, was elected head of the legislature yesterday. He replaces Wan Li, 77.
* Rong Yiren, 77, a millionaire "red capitalist" who heads China's premier overseas investment company, was elected state vice president. He succeeds Wang Zhen, who died March 12 at the age of 85.
The rise of Mr. Rong -- who is not a party member -- to this ceremonial post is in keeping with Mr. Deng's largely successful, yearlong drive to install a "socialist market economy" in China, an economy in which capitalist markets play a dominant role under the political leadership of the party.
Mr. Deng's push for free markets -- formally endorsed by the party last fall -- also will be given a firmer legal foundation by the legislature tomorrow when it amends the nation's constitution.
The amendments, largely technical word changes to China's 1982 constitution, essentially replace references to the dominance of state economic plans with ones stressing the role of markets.
References to "state-run" enterprises also will be replaced by the phrase "state-owned" -- a subtle shift underscoring the party's current drive to remove the government from the day-to-day management of its commercial ventures and allow these businesses to manage themselves.
Frail and without formal title, Mr. Deng has managed to engineer his drive for free markets, constitutional amendments and personnel shifts in the party and the government in the face of residual opposition from party conservatives.
To display his approval to the nation, Mr. Deng is expected to make a rare public appearance, if only on TV, after the end of the legislature's meeting Wednesday.