BEIJING--Once a rising star in the Chinese Communist Party, Bo Xilai, former secretary of the party's Chongqing municipal committee, will now be likely expelled from the party over a messy political scandal and faces the end of his political career, sources said.
That expulsion marks a stunning decline of fortune for Bo, 63, once considered a leading contender for China's highest leadership positions as the party heads into its power changeover congress later this year.
The punishment is considered the most severe on the party’s five-level disciplinary ladder.
Even when Zhao Ziyang, general secretary at the time of the crackdown in 1989 of the demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, fell from power after being accused of "supporting the turmoil" and "splitting the party," he retained his party membership, like other former high-ranking party officials who became embroiled in controversy.
The party is making Bo take responsibility as the superior to Wang Lijun, the vice mayor and police chief of Chongqing, who tried to seek asylum at a U.S. Consulate General in February.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, received a suspended death sentence on Aug. 20 from a Chinese court after being found guilty of murdering Neil Heywood, a British businessman.
Wang sought asylum after confronting Bo about his wife's involvement in Heywood's death, and then becoming fearful for his own life.
Bo is under house arrest at his home in Beijing, undergoing questioning by the party’s central discipline committee. He has been suspended from the party’s 25-member Politburo since April.
Bo has denied involvement in Heywood's death, but sources say he could face criminal charges of taking bribes.
Bo’s expulsion represents a triumph for President Hu Jintao and his allies in the party's top leadership, who overrode objections from conservatives, led by Jiang Jemin, former president and a strong supporter of Bo, and other high-ranking officials.
The decision to expel Bo came when party leaders gathered for an unofficial meeting in Beidaihe in Hebei province earlier this month, according to the sources who have contact with some of the officials who attended the meeting.
Bo's expulsion also suggests Hu maintains the upper hand in deciding the makeup of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, a top decision-making body.
The new leadership will be finalized in the Communist Party's 18th National Congress in autumn. Bo’s expulsion will have great ramifications on the internal struggle within senior party officials over the makeup of the standing committee.
Hu apparently is seeking to reduce the number of standing committee members from nine to seven.
The change is expected to allow a group of leaders hailing from the Communist Youth League, like Hu, to dominate the party’s decision-making even after his departure as general secretary of the party.
The official announcement on Bo's punishment is expected to come in the general meeting of the Central Committee, scheduled right before the National Congress.
Bo will also likely be stripped of his status as a delegate to the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, where delegates have immunity from arrest.
The tug of war in the party over Bo’s discipline was so intense that there was speculation that the party congress to choose the next leadership would have to be postponed, according to diplomatic sources.
But Hu appeared set to convene the congress around the scheduled time as past sessions by closing the curtain on the series of incidents involving Bo and his family with strong disciplinary measures.
Xi Jinping, who is expected to succeed Hu as the party’s general secretary in this upcoming congress, has avoided commenting on the incidents.
Hu’s firm stand on Bo reflects his determination to not let the controversy swirling around Bo interfere with party affairs after Xi ascends to the party’s top post.
Bo is a son of Bo Yibo, a trusted lieutenant of the late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, and has enjoyed the backing of Jiang.
According to party officials who are familiar with the bereaved family of Deng, many party veterans, including those from Deng’s family, wrote to party’s senior officials requesting their “discreet” handling of Bo’s fate.
But Jiang, who has wielded his influence even after stepping down from his party leadership position, could not use his clout in the developments surrounding Bo.
Jiang could have sought Hu’s concession in the nomination of members of the party’s new leadership in exchange for accepting Bo's punishment, but some analysts cited a decline of his power.
Still, many Chinese continued to express their support for Bo through the scandal. Bo, when he was mayor of Chongqing, garnered support of many citizens there who are disgruntled with the country's widening economic inequality by providing public housing for low-income families.
Dozens of men and women donning caps and T-shirts with an illustration of Mao Tse-tung gathered in Tiananmen Square in early May.
Bo's supporters, in their 20s through 60s and diverse in occupations from a writer to former government employees, came from many parts of China to demand his release.
The rally was organized by Wang Zheng, who teaches at the Beijing Institute of Economic Management.
Wang, a conservative, released an open letter on the Internet that argued that the questioning of Bo by officials, not through criminal proceedings by police or law enforcement authorities, is a violation of the criminal law.
Soon after this, Wang was detained by authorities. At the rally, about 20 plainclothes police officers forced the supporters into police cars and took them away right after they began calling for Bo’s release.
The rally could be interpreted as one leading to criticism of the country's top leadership, according to analysts. A ranking official with a conservative media organization said another Bo will emerge in the party's top political ranks even if he was eliminated from power.
(This article was written by Kenji Minemura and Nozomu Hayashi in Beijing.)
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