Communist Party flexes muscles with purge of former favourite Bo Xilai

  • @cliffordcoonan

In a powerful signal that no individual is bigger than the Communist Party, one-time rising star Bo Xilai has been expelled from its ranks and faces criminal charges related to corruption, abuse of power and his alleged role in the cover-up of the death of British businessman Neil Heywood.

There had been weeks of speculation about how the Party would resolve its biggest political crisis in decades, just ahead of a brutally tense, once-in-a-decade leadership transition. But when the statement unexpectedly appeared on the official Xinhua news agency yesterday evening, it was concise and devastating.

"Bo Xilai abused his powers of office, committed serious errors and bears a major responsibility," it said.

These "grave violations of party discipline" go all the way back to the early days of Mr Bo's rise from a cadre in Dalian and Liaoning provinces, as minister of commerce, and the southwestern city of Chongqing, where Mr Bo was Communist Party chief.

He also "had affairs and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women", the statement said.

The ruling party made direct links between Mr Bo and other elements in the murder of Neil Heywood in Chongqing, and said he bore "significant responsibility" for British man's death.

Mr Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, and his former police chief and protégé Wang Lijun, have both been jailed over the murder.

The statement said Mr Bo was being expelled from the Party and the elite decision-making Politburo and Central Committee "in view of his errors and culpability in the Wang Lijun incident and the intentional homicide case involving Bogu Kailai". Bogu is his wife's official but rarely used surname, often used to make clear the distinct connection between the two.

"Bo Xilai's behaviour brought major consequences, seriously undermined the reputation of the party and the country, creating a very negative impact at home and abroad and significantly damaging the cause of the Party and people."

The statement urged "party organisations at all levels" to take heed of the "negative example" of the Bo Xilai case.

The ruling Communist Party is cleaning house ahead of a crucial congress beginning on 8 November, when President Hu Jintao will step down as general secretary, the party's top post. He is due to resign from the presidency at a parliamentary meeting next March, ending his 10-year tenure as China's leader, and hand over the reins to Xi Jinping.

Mr Bo has not been seen in public since the scandal, and speculation is rife over how severe his punishment will be. "The earlier conventional wisdom was that he would be treated lightly. It looks like now he will face very serious corruption charges," said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a professor at Hong Kong's Chinese University, adding that Mr Bo could serve up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

The next step will be a plenary session at the start of November, during which the details of the congress will be outlined and various planning decisions will be made, and the details of Mr Bo's misdemeanours presented to the Party faithful. A criminal case will take time to prepare, even if the guilty outcome is a foregone conclusion, and so it will most likely take place after the congress.

Mr Lam said: "Bo Xilai will have ceased to be a distraction by then so the Party has succeeded in presenting a façade of unity for the consumption of the Chinese public."

Dashing, photogenic and politically ambitious, for a couple of years Mr Bo looked like being the future of the Communist Party as he sought to leverage his position in Chongqing into a place at the top table, the Standing Committee of the governing Politburo.

But by flirting with the cult of personality, something that has been a definite no-go since the time of Mao, and by flaunting his power and wealth through his son Bo Guagua, he has eventually sealed his own fate.

By flirting with the cult of personality, Bo Xilai eventually appears to have sealed his own fate