China’s Communist Party Removes Politician From Top Ranks

Posted April 11th, 2012 at 3:40 am (UTC-5)
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Chinese state media on Wednesday praised the decision of the Communist Party to remove one of its senior members, Bo Xilai, from its top ranks, in one of China's biggest political scandals in recent memory.

The official Xinhua news agency said late Tuesday that Bo was suspended from the party's 25-member Politburo and its 300-member Central Committee over serious violations of party discipline, which in China usually refers to corruption.

That news was followed by the shocking announcement that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, has been detained as a prime suspect in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, who reportedly had close ties with Bo's family.

The charismatic politician had been considered a frontrunner for a leadership post in China's powerful Politburo Standing Committee when seven of its nine members step down later this year in a once-in-a-decade transition.

Victor Shih, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, says the rare public scandal has exposed a behind-the-scenes power struggle in China's ruling party ahead of the transition.

“This really reveals that there are strong undercurrents in Chinese politics, and that the facade of unity that China tries to portray to the world is just a facade. In reality behind the scenes, there are quite intense factional struggles in the Chinese leadership.”

China's Communist Party-controlled People's Daily newspaper on Wednesday continued to portray an image of unity, praising the “correct decision” of the party in stripping Bo of his posts. The editorial said Bo had damaged the “image of the party and state.”

While Bo's once-promising political career is all but assured to be over, Shih says it remains to be seen whether the politician himself will face criminal charges.

“At this point, he is only accused of violating party discipline, which is a much lighter and non-criminal crime. But the press is saying that there is still a lot of investigation that is ongoing on Bo Xilai himself, and so this may bring about more serious and criminal charges against him.”

A son of one of the founders of communist China, Bo gained prominence when he and police chief Wang Lijun launched a crackdown on corruption in Chongqing, a city of 30 million people. The controversial campaign led to the arrests and convictions of many high-profile politicians.

Bo also began a so-called revival of “red” cultural themes and slogans from the era of Chairman Mao Zedong.

His downfall came quickly after Wang fled to a U.S. consulate in February, reportedly to seek political asylum. Several media reports quote unnamed Chinese officials as saying that Wang shared details of corruption by Bo during his visit to the consulate. Shortly thereafter, Bo was removed from his post as Communist Party leader of Chongqing.

It is the first time a sitting Politburo member has been removed since 2007, when Shanghai Communist Party chief Chen Liangyu was replaced.