On September 1, 2012, prior to the transfer of power between Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping at the pivotal 18th Party Congress, Ling was abruptly transferred from his position as General Office chief to become head of the United Front Work Department, an organ considered to be of less importance. This was seen as a demotion for Ling. At the 18th Party Congress held in the fall of 2012, Ling did not gain a seat on the Politburo as expected, nor did he retain his position as Secretary of the Secretariat; this signalled that Ling was excluded from all the major power organs of the party.[11] In March 2013, Ling was elected as one of the Vice-Chairmen of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), barely holding onto his status as a "national leader". In addition, of the 23 candidates standing for confirmation for the CPPCC Vice-Chairmanship, Ling received, by far, the fewest votes in favour. A total of 90 CPPCC delegates voted against Ling, while 22 delegates abstained.[14]
Ling was one of the highest-profile targets (next to Zhou Yongkang and Xu Caihou) of the anti-corruption campaign following the 18th Party Congress spearheaded by Party General secretary Xi Jinping and central discipline chief Wang Qishan. He was the second sitting "national leader"-level figure to be investigated by the party's anti-graft agency, after CPPCC Vice-Chairman Su Rong. Chinese-language media have linked Ling to a mysterious political network composed of prominent politicians and businesspeople with origins in Shanxi called the Xishan Society.[16]
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