China Braces for Next Act in Leadership Drama
“We can’t keep a lid on this,” China’s disgraced leader Bo Xilai was reportedly told by his police chief when the murder scandal now engulfing Bo’s family first began to unravel.
With a once-in-a-decade leadership handover months away, the Communist Party’s elite must be thinking the same thing as they confront the first very public turmoil at the centre of power in more than 20 years.
Revelations about the former Chongqing party chief issued by the government on Tuesday, and above all that his wife Gu Kailai is suspected of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, have upset China’s carefully staged power succession, turning it into a drama that could still claim victims.
“We’re all watching a big drama performed by the top level of the party,” said Dai Qing, an investigative writer in Beijing and the adoptive daughter of a People’s Liberation Army marshal. “Act one is over, and we’re waiting to see what happens next.”
President Hu Jintao and other leaders now face a quandary - how to prevent rifts among the leaders even as they maneuver for possible gain from Bo’s dismissal from the Party’s Central Committee and its Politburo.
That, and especially how it was handled, has exposed divisions within the ruling elite.
Former officials and other sources close to the leadership said these were often ideological, and overlapped with open feuding between left-wing and liberal groups.
Left-wing supporters of the charismatic Bo defended him as the instigator of a much-needed new and improved path for China. But those pushing for Bo’s fall were alarmed by his sweeping crackdown on organized crime, which brought allegations of widespread abuse of power, and by his nostalgia for the songs and culture of Mao Zedong’s era.
The differences among the elite carry risks of destabilizing the government just as the Party grapples with mounting pressures on the world’s second biggest economy and waning public confidence.