Beijing: A disgraced ally of outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao was given a new role on Monday as a vice chairman of a largely ceremonial advisory body to Parliament, as a way of sparing Hu from embarrassment before he retires.

Ling Jihua, 56, was demoted in September as head of the Communist Party’s powerful General Office of the Central Committee, a secretive body that is the organizational cockpit of the party’s top leaders, after reports his son was killed in a car crash involving a luxury sports car last March.

His demotion to the much less influential position as chief of the party’s United Front Work Department—responsible for co-opting non-Communists—was viewed as a setback for Hu’s efforts to retain major influence in the next administration.

However, Ling appeared in public last week at the opening of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, parliament’s toothless advisory body, as a member of its organising secretariat.

On Monday, he was elected one of its 23 vice chairmen, giving him a “national-level leader" rank, but in the face of an unusually high level of opposition, given the standard everyone-votes-yes Chinese politics of consensus.

Of the more than 2,200 delegates voting, Ling got 90 “no" votes and 22 abstentions, far more than any of the other candidates, who include central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan.

“Ling Jihua is not popular," a source with ties to the leadership told Reuters.

A second source with leadership ties said Ling had been given the vice chairmanship position “to give Hu face" despite the car crash scandal.

Delegates, asked by Reuters about Ling, struggled to say anything nice about him.

“Don’t ask such a sensitive question," said one delegate, who covered up his name badge to prevent identification, when asked about Ling and his son’s car crash. “There’s been no definitive word from the government on that incident."

Ling has been among the officials who are nearly always at Hu’s side during visits at home and abroad over the past decade.

The General Office is responsible for shaping the policy agenda, deciding who those leaders meet, as well as their travel arrangements at home and abroad, and security details. Its head is roughly equivalent to the White House chief of staff.

The car crash first drew public interest last March when the Global Times, published by the official People’s Daily, reported that online information about the accident had been deleted.

That triggered suspicions about the identity of the deceased and a storm online before censors deleted all microblog posts mentioning the crash.

The government has given no official account of the incident, despite incoming president Xi Jinping pledging to spare no effort to root out corruption and abuse of power even at the highest levels.

Xi, appointed party and military boss in November, will formally assume the head of state role later this week.

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