China's leadership shakeup: What's next for Bo Xilai and the Communist Party

A government meeting today answered two anticipated political questions: How the controversial Bo would be treated, and when the party would be ready to unveil its new leaders.

Ng Han Guan/AP/File
In this March 9 file photo, Bo Xilai reacts during a plenary session of the National People's Congress held in Beijing.

China’s ruling Communist Party Friday expelled scandal-ridden leader Bo Xilai from its ranks, accusing him of abuse of power, corruption, and sexual impropriety.

Mr. Bo will be handed over for criminal investigation and trial, the state news agency Xinhua said, ending speculation that the former high-flyer would be subjected only to party disciplinary measures.

The decision on Bo’s fate, taken Friday by a meeting of the 24 member Politburo – the party’s second highest body – also cleared the way for an announcement that the 18th  party congress will open on Nov. 8.

The Politburo meeting thus answered two questions that had bedeviled the Chinese political scene for several months: How would the controversial Bo be treated, and when would the party be ready to unveil its new leaders at a national congress.

That meeting had apparently been delayed by infighting at the highest level of the party. Analysts suspected it had to do with how to handle Bo, whose wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted last month of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood and whose former top aide, Wang Lijun, was sentenced last week to 15 years in jail for covering up the murder, taking bribes, and seeking to defect to the US. 

“Bo has his supporters and the leadership needed a collective decision to send him to trial” before agreeing when to convene the congress, due to seal a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, says Michael Davis, a politics professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “That decision has not been easy to reach.”

A government statement carried by Xinhua said that Bo, who has been in detention since he was fired in March as party chief of the southwestern megalopolis of Chongqing, had “abused his powers of office, committed serious errors and bears a major responsibility in the Wang Lijun incident and the intentional homicide case of Bogu Kailai [Bo's wife].”

It is unclear when Bo will stand trial. “Chinese justice can be pretty quick,” says Professor Davis. “The critical thing is clearing up this mess so that it does not interfere with the transition.”

The Xinhua statement did not specify the crimes of which Bo stands accused, but said that he had been involved in the murder of Mr. Heywood, that he had taken “massive bribes,” and had violated party discipline in government posts going back nearly two decades. Investigators had also found evidence of Bo’s “inappropriate sexual relationships with multiple women,” the report said.

The statement made it clear that despite an apparent rearguard action by his allies to protect Bo, the party leadership has decided to treat him severely. The major bribery charges he is likely to face can carry the death penalty. 

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