Kuala Lumpur: Asian football's governing body on Thursday said it planned to hold leadership elections next year after a long period of uncertainty following the suspension of its president over bribery claims.
China's Zhang Jilong, who has been interim president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) since Mohamed bin Hammam's ban from football activities last year, appeared to indicate he would stand for the post full-time when he promised "a new era of transparency".
"Under my caretaker leadership, I promised a new vision for AFC. I committed myself to a new era of transparency and I am confident that with your support I will be able to deliver this objective," he said in a statement.
However, the AFC added that the presidential vote, at a congress due by the end of April, would only go ahead "subject to the recommendations and advice of the AFC legal committee by mid-January".
Elections would be aimed at sweeping away a turbulent period since bin Hammam was banned from football for life by FIFA in June 2011 over claims he bribed delegates for votes during his bid to win the world body's presidency.
In July this year, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned the ban due to a lack of evidence, but stopped short of exonerating him. The Qatari is now under a temporary ban as the AFC probes alleged financial irregularities.
At next year's congress, the AFC will also hold elections for one position on the FIFA executive committee, as well as one female AFC vice-president and two female members of the AFC executive committee.
The congress was approved unanimously by the AFC's executive committee in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, just ahead of its annual awards show, in what the statement called a "note of solidarity".
The bin Hammam affair has spun into a web of intrigue in recent months with charges laid and then dropped against a Malaysian man who was accused of stealing documents from AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
In neighbouring Singapore, World Sport Group, which has a large marketing and media rights contract with the AFC, has taken a blogger to court to reveal the source of a leaked internal audit of the football body.
Meanwhile bin Hammam, who has always maintained that the bribery charges were politically motivated, has also tried to fight his temporary ban, although his bid to have it overturned was rejected last month by CAS.
The case has had wide repercussions with Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup, in which bin Hammam reportedly played a role, coming under renewed scrutiny by FIFA, which also announced a crackdown on football corruption.