Chinese legislators have stripped politician Bo Xilai of his last official post, formally expelling him from the country’s parliament and setting the stage for criminal proceedings against him.
State news agency Xinhua said the Standing Committee of the 11th National People’s Congress (NPC) removed Bo from his post late last month, but made the announcement only on Friday at a bi-monthly session.
“According to the law on the deputies to NPC and to local people’s congresses, his post was terminated,” Xinhua said, quoting a statement from the standing committee at the end of a four-day meeting.
Although the latest move was a formality, following Bo’s expulsion from the Communist Party last month, it does mean that the former rising political star no longer enjoys immunity from prosecution.
That sets the stage for a criminal case involving accusations of corruption and other wrongdoing, including interfering in the investigation into the murder of a British businessman. Bo’s wife and an aide were convicted for the murder last month.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Hong Kong, said that the expulsion allows the Communist Party’s leadership to “now distance themselves from this scandal”.
“So what happens next is that this now goes through a judiciary process where there will be an inquiry or an indictment against him, but the chances are that this is just a formality and it will happen rather quickly, as the Communist Party is in charge of the whole judiciary system,” she said.
Communist Party leaders are keen to resolve the country’s messiest political scandal in decades as they prepare for next month’s once-in-a-decade transition of power to the next generation of leaders tasked with shoring up public support in the face of widespread disgust over official graft and influence peddling.
As the most powerful official in the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing, Bo had been considered a candidate for a seat on the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, and his toppling exposed sharp infighting in the party’s uppermost ranks.
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee said it approved a decision to remove Bo as a deputy, but offered no details.
Bo’s downfall has been rapid: His wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, and Bo’s former right-hand man was accused of taking bribes, abusing power and trying to defect to the United States, among other crimes.
Gu was handed a suspended death sentence, which is commonly commuted to a life sentence in China.
Even before that, Bo had angered many in Beijing with his populist style that defied the party’s centralised system of policy and decision making.
Bo’s initiatives included a sweeping crackdown on organised crime and a campaign to revive Mao-era songs and culture that reminded many of the excesses of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
Bo’s expulsion cements an impression of unity among the leadership in rejecting his neo-Maoist approach in favour of stability, said Feng Chongyi, a China politics expert at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.
“It’s very positive in that way, but not sufficient to conclude that the party will become any more liberal,” Feng said.
Chinese authorities have not yet announced specific charges against Bo, but in expelling him on September 28, the party accused him of offenses reaching back two decades and range from taking bribes, abusing his power and having improper relationships with several women.
He has not been seen in public since mid-March and is believed to be under detention at a Beijing prison.
Beijing attorney Li Xiaolin said on Thursday that Bo’s wife’s family has hired him and Shen Zhigeng to defend Bo, but the two lawyers are not formally accredited by the authorities to represent him yet. The timing of a trial is unclear, although there would appear not to be enough time to conclude matters before the party congress that begins November 8.
Bo is the first Politburo member to be removed from office in five years and the scandal raised talk of a political struggle involving Bo supporters intent on derailing succession plans calling for Vice President Xi Jinping to lead the party for the next decade, as well as concerns over corruption among top-tier politicians.