China′s Bo Xilai leaves office amid controversy | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 15.03.2012
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China's Bo Xilai leaves office amid controversy

China's number one fighter of organized crime, Bo Xilai has left his office as party leader of the largest city on earth to be replaced by Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang. The move has raised questions on China's politics.

Just one day after the final day of China's annual People's Congress a senior communist party official has left his post without giving any reasons. His departure took place in the aftermath of Wen Jiabao's speech in which he warned against a repeat of the deadly chaos of the Cultural Revolution if "urgent" political reform were not implemented. Without such change, "such historical tragedy as the Cultural Revolution may happen again," he said.

Much speculation surrounds Bo Xilai's departure from office party leader of the largest city on earth, the 30-milllion+ metropolis of Chongqing. Some observers believe he has lost a power struggle focussing on the political direction of the party. Bo has - in the past - been seen as a leader of the so-called "New Leftists". But other experts do not believe that this is the real reason for his fall from grace.

Political reform?

Jin Zhong of Hong Kong's political Kaifang newspaper said removing Bo was not any real sign of political reform. He told Deutsche Welle that more would have to be done than warning against the revival of the Cultural Revolution and suppressing leftist movements.

Great Hall of the People

The People's Congress ended with Wen Jiabao calling for new political direction

The reason, according to Jin, why Bo is no longer party secretary in his city, has to do with his crackdown on crime. Bo enjoyed a good reputation with his campaigns to spruce up the city and help the poor with affordable accommodation in his "Peaceful Chongqing" project. He also became well-known for coming down with a heavy hand on criminals - all in the name of cleaning up the city.

Jin said the crime fighting itself was not the problem, as the general sentiment in the country had been to get tough on crime and corruption. But what made Bo so undesirable was the extent to which he cracked down. The dedication with which he drove his campaign was such that some working with him at times used illegal methods to arrest thousands of suspects.

'Cold feet'

Dr. Nora Sausmikat of the German Asia Foundation Asia House said Bo's crime fighting gave other members of the party "cold feet."

"He tackled something that was dangerous, although it is something politicians from Beijing or Shanghai or Guangzhou talk about time and time again – but Bo Xilai has stumbled over just that. If you know that corruption is a permanent fixture of China's political elite, then you know how difficult it is to fight it."

Sausmikat referred to the controversy surrounding Chongqing's head of police, who in February escaped to a US consulate and sought asylum. The incident kicked up a triggered a wave of speculation in the media.

"And Wang Lijin experienced first hand what happens when you go against the rich," Sausmikat commented, adding that the scandal surrounding him probably contributed to Bo having to leave office.

Bo was seen as a flashy and charismatic politician who also became known for his revival of old Maoist slogans and songs sung in the style of the Cultural Revolution. He was also seen as a prime candidate for one of the seats of the Politburo's Standing Committee. Elections are to be held this autumn in the congress' 18th session over seven of the committee's nine seats. The elections take place every five years. Bo's chances of winning a seat are now nill.

Skyline of Chongqing

Chongqing is the world's largest city

"It means that one of the factions, probably Hu Jintao's, will be strengthened, probably by conservative, nationalist elements. The fact that Zhang Dejiang was quickly named as Bo's replacement speaks for that. And there will be discussion on a future growth model, on reforms, how to deal with corruption."

'Princeling' politics

Some see Bo's defeat as a defeat for the party's so-called "New Leftism" wing - an ideological movement counter to that of the economic liberals. Sausmikat does not believe this to be true.

"First of all, there is no such thing as the leftists. There are many, many factions and many are even at odds with each other. Besides that, many doubt whether or not he was really the true representative of the 'New Leftists.' The question is, how much of it all was just for show - using populist slogans and old red songs in the style of those from the Cultural Revolution to gain popularity and on the other hand being just as corrupt and just as involved in these dealings."

"What is going on here is an old power struggle between ruling families and offspring of old socialist cadres."

Who will take the reigns of leadership is not yet clear as a lot could happen between now and fall.

Author: Sarah Berning
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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