The congress votes are "fully democratic" but "there is a degree of inevitability," actor and party delegate Song Guofeng of Liaoning province said as he entered the hall Wednesday.
"We need to have continuity in leadership to carry on," Song said. "They are already in the leadership core. The stability of the party and of the country is important."
Xi and Li — part of a generation schooled at a time of more openness to the West than their predecessors — were inducted into the leadership five years ago and are shoo-ins for the Standing Committee. But other positions on the panel were believed up for grabs and the subject of intense jockeying ahead of the congress.
The committee currently has nine members but may be reduced to seven. Wang Qishan, another vice premier, was named to the party's disciplinary body in a sign he would likely be named to the top committee.
China's leadership transitions are always occasions for fractious backroom bargaining, but this one has been further complicated by scandals that have fed public cynicism that their leaders are more concerned with power and wealth than government.
In recent months, Bo Xilai, a senior politician seen as a rising star, was purged after his aide exposed that his wife had murdered a British businessman. An ally of Hu's was sidelined after his son died in the crash of a Ferrari he shouldn't have been able to afford. And foreign media recently reported that relatives of Xi and outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao have amassed vast wealth. The scandals have weakened Hu, on whose watch they occurred.
Hu took over as party boss in 2002 in the first power transfer that did not involve the death of a leader or the unseating of a designated successor.
He will remain in the largely ceremonial post of president until March. Whether or not he remains head of the military commission should be confirmed Thursday.
In a nod to Hu's 10 years in power, the congress upgraded his pet theory, the Scientific Outlook on Development, to rank alongside other key schools of thought in the party constitution such as Marxism-Leninsim and Mao Zedong Thought. Hu's program called for more balanced growth in an attempt to distribute benefits more fairly across society.
The congress is a largely ceremonial gathering of representatives — mostly carefully selected from the national and provincial political and military elite. The real deal-making for the top positions is done behind the scenes by the true power-holders. The newly selected Central Committee meets Thursday to select the next Politburo of about two dozen members and from that, the Politburo Standing Committee.
Associated Press writers Chris Bodeen, Didi Tang and Charles Hutzler in Beijing contributed to this report.
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