Bo Xilai

Deal-making on Bo Xilai's penalty shows extent of factional struggles

Long delay on decision to expel ex-Chongqing leader from the party underscores the deep factional power struggles going on in Beijing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2012, 8:17am

The high-stakes decision to oust the populist Bo Xilai from the Communist Party was the result of intense deal-making that laid bare deep factional power struggles in Beijing.

Analysts said the decision to prolong the suspense over Bo's fate underlined the leadership's inability to reach a consensus among various party factions on such a sensitive issue, which had threatened to throw the upcoming once-a-decade leadership transition in disarray.

In addition to expulsion, Bo, who had been a member of the powerful Politburo, now faces criminal prosecution over accusations that he accepted bribes and covered up his wife's murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Chen Ziming , an independent Beijing-based political analyst, said Bo's downfall appears to have further divided the party and disrupted preparations for the generational political shake-up.

"Apparently, factional rifts and power conflicts have escalated to unprecedented levels this year over how to handle Bo," Chen said, adding that the fight had "forced the top leadership to change the previous consensus" reached at the secretive party conclave at Beidaihe last month.

He said the unexpected intensity of the political bargaining between those who favoured harsh punishment and his supporters among hardcore Maoists and the "princeling" offspring of revolutionary leaders have turned the leadership transition to an ugly show of politicking, muckraking and mud-slinging.

In the end, analysts said President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao , who were believed to have advocated throwing the book at Bo, appear to have got the upper hand. But it could hardly be considered a victory for the pair because they must have made concessions.

Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies and director of the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, said the repeated delays before announcing action on Bo exposed the splits within the Politburo and its supreme Standing Committee.

"Princelings and Bo's followers apparently don't want to see Bo being punished severely and that has become a source of disagreements and contention," Tsang said. "It also means they must have got something important in return, mostly likely on key personnel appointments."

Professor Hu Xingdou , a Beijing-based analyst, said the tough approach towards Bo, who, despite his downfall, remains popular with the resurgent Maoists, could be seen as a demonstration of the leadership's commitment to rule of law.

Professor Yuan Weishi , of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, also hailed the decision. "Bo's case is unprecedented [as] he apparently has much greater clout than [former Shanghai boss] Chen Liangyu and [former Beijing chief] Chen Xitong [the other high-ranked officials to fall from grace in recent years] and has attracted much more antagonism for his political grandstanding and alleged power abuse," Yuan said. "But it will also raise the embarrassing question over why such a corrupt official can rise through party ranks."

Additional reporting by Laura Zhou and Li Jing


Rise and fall

1984-2004 Two-decade stint in Liaoning for Bo Xilai, from deputy county party chief to governor

2004-2007 Minister of Commerce

2007 Promoted to Politburo and becomes Chongqing party boss. Famous for "red culture" and anti-triad campaigns

November 14, 2011 British businessman Neil Heywood dies in a Chongqing hotel

January-February 2012 Bo slaps police chief Wang Lijun after Wang brings up Heywood case and implicates Bo's wife Gu Kailai. Wang briefly flees to US consulate in Chengdu. He is later whisked away by officials to Beijing

March Bo misses a plenary session at the National People's Congress. He later says that he picked the wrong man (Wang) for the job

March 14 Premier Wen Jiabao rebukes Chongqing's municipal leadership over Wang's case

March 15 Bo removed as Chongqing party chief, replaced by Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang

April 10 Bo suspended from Politburo capacity, placed under investigation for suspected disciplinary violation. Police formally investigate Gu for the murder of Heywood.

July-August Gu gets suspended death sentence for the murder of Heywood

September In Chengdu, Wang is sentenced to 15 years' jail for bribery and abuse of power

September 28 Bo stripped of Communist Party membership and official roles. He will be handed over to judicial authorities to face justice