The murder trial of Gu Kailai, which ended on Thursday with no verdict, could now pave the way for an official announcement regarding her husband, Bo Xilai, according to political analysts.
No details have yet been made public by China about the ongoing investigation into "serious violations" of discipline alleged against Bo and his former police chief Wang Lijun, whose Feb. 6 visit to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu triggered the biggest political scandal to rock the ruling Chinese Communist Party in decades.
"If they can prove Gu's case, it means it will be all of a piece with Bo Xilai's case," said Hu Ping, editor of the U.S.-based online magazine Beijing Spring. "It will mean that those [within the Party] who have sympathy for him will have no comeback."
Hu said the timing of the trial suggested that the authorities were keen to wrap up the Bo scandal ahead of a crucial leadership transition at the 18th Party Congress later this year.
"What China's top leaders fear most is losing control of the situation at the Party Congress," Hu said. "If they lose control of the situation, they will be finished."
"That's why they write the script for every Party Congress before it happens, and everyone rehearses the script, so everyone knows what role they must play."
"Of course there's always the possibility that people will refuse to follow the script ... which is why this is a real headache for them," Hu said. "But if they can prove the murder charges, then Bo Xilai should get punished ... for using his political power to interfere with the investigation."
According to a recent article in the Apple Daily by Hong Kong-based current affairs commentator Willy Wo-lap Lam, Bo's fall is likely to have harmed the political standing of outgoing president Hu Jintao and his support base among the Communist Party Youth League.
Wang Youjin, visiting professor at the Beijing University of Politics and Law, said he thought Gu was likely to receive a jail term of around 15 years.
"Looking at the situation, she won't get the death penalty," Wang said. "She won't get life imprisonment either, that's for sure."
"To judge from what happened during the trial, she should get around 15 years' imprisonment, and Zhang Xiaojun will probably get a slightly lighter sentence."
China's microblogging services were relatively quiet on the topic, with keyword searches for "Gu Kailai" and "Hefei People's Court" on Sina Weibo returning the message "In accordance with relevant laws and policies, the search results ... are unavailable" on Thursday evening local time.
Netizens appeared somewhat distracted, however, by the posting of explicit sex photos apparently involving a county Party secretary from Anhui's Lujing county and other local leaders.
"Kailai in Hefei was unable to set the microblogs on fire, but Lujiang hasn't let the people down," wrote user @kanyihuixiaoyihuilundunxingdong.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English with additional reporting by Luisetta Mudie.