Disgraced pair sealed fate by flaunting power, wealth

Wed, Aug 22, 2012, 01:00

NOW THAT his wife Gu Kailai has been given a suspended death sentence, attention turns to Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Communist Party chief of Chongqing. His fate is the next issue to be addressed ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition later this year.

It looks increasingly unlikely that Bo will face criminal charges himself, because the stability of the ruling Communist Party is at stake. His name was not mentioned during Monday’s verdict.

Bo is unlikely to retain his party membership, which means his political career is almost certainly over.

“His wife did not contest the charge against her and was co-operative in the investigation, suggesting that some kind of agreement was reached concerning how Bo’s case would be handled and that Bo had no plan to resist the authorities,” Zhang Lifan, a political commentator formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the South China Morning Post.

This time last year Bo was looking like a dead cert to make it on to the standing committee of the politburo, the highest echelon of power in China, but now he is facing some kind of in-house discipline.

On Monday, Gu was given a suspended death sentence for her part in the poisoning of British businessman Neil Heywood in a Chongqing hotel room.

The trial, which was characterised by gaping inconsistencies and bore the hallmarks of a Soviet show trial, was meant to draw a line under the criminal part of the story.

However, many in China feel the trial and the lenient sentence underline the view that senior Communist Party leaders are treated differently from ordinary people when it comes to the death penalty.

There are Shakespearean elements to the way the story is unfolding and in many ways, Bo Xilai and his wife fit into the Macbeth mould of vicious political chicanery by a husband and wife team.

Bo was sacked as Chongqing party secretary in March, before being removed from the powerful 25-member politburo and placed under investigation for violating party discipline, which normally means for corruption.

What appears to have made him fall foul of the party faction of President Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao is the unabashedly populist line he followed while he was party chief in the southwestern city, organising a crackdown on organised crime and corruption and reviving some of the party activities popular during the Cultural Revolution.

Bo still enjoys considerable support among certain groupings in the politburo and no one wants a gloves-off free-for-all faction fight ahead of the 18th party congress, at which President Hu will hand over to Xi Jinping and the new younger leadership starts to take shape.

No one among the leadership wants an investigation into whether Bo and Gu used their influence to build up a personal fortune. By flirting with the cult of personality, something that has been a definite no-go since the time of Mao Zedong, and by flaunting their power and wealth through their son Bo Guagua, the pair sealed their own fate, which is now being played out.

Then there is the case of Bo’s right-hand man in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, who first raised the alarm over Gu’s involvement in Heywood’s death and is now facing trial, probably for treason, after he ran to the US consulate in Chengdu to reveal his suspicions and in fear of his life.

The reputation of the party is of paramount importance in China. Mao was responsible for millions of deaths during the Cultural Revolution and the disastrous agricultural experiment known as the Great Leap Forward, but he remains a popular icon and his face adorns every banknote.