The establishment of a new political party by a supporter of disgraced former Chongqing chief Bo Xilai reflects a growing need for a more charismatic, populist style of politics and growing calls, analysts said on Monday.
Scholar Wang Zheng established the party last week, just days before a key ruling Chinese Communist Party meeting, naming Bo, a former rising political star now serving a life sentence for corruption, as "chairman for life."
Wang, an associate professor at the Beijing Institute of Economics and Management, said the aim of the Zhixian Party, which means "supreme constitution," was to support Bo in the face of unfair treatment at the hands of the Chinese legal system.
But she told Agence France-Presse the party had been unable to contact Bo to see if he accepted the role of chairman.
The last high-profile attempt by Chinese political activists to set up an opposition party ended in December 1998 with the sentencing of China Democracy Party (CDP) founders to lengthy jail terms.
Zhejiang dissident Wang Youcai, Wuhan-based Qin Yongmin, and Beijing-based Xu Wenli were sentenced respectively to 11, 12, and 13 years in prison on charges of “incitement to subvert state power."
And former university researcher Guo Quan was charged with "subversion of state power" and sentenced on Oct. 17, 2009 to 10 years' imprisonment after he claimed his opposition New People's Party had 10 million members among the country's most disgruntled citizens.
The party was set up to represent anyone petitioning the government and the Communist Party for social justice in land disputes, forced evictions, and allegations of official wrongdoing.
But Wang said she had ignored the objections raised by her employer: "I don't worry about being arrested," she told AFP.
"At first, my school tried to stop me from doing this, but I ignored them."
On Oct. 25, a court in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong rejected Bo's appeal against his life sentence "bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power case."
The appeal was based on claims that his confessions in custody were inadmissible as evidence, because they had been "produced under pressure from officials handling the case, and ... should be disregarded," the court statement said.
Bo, 64, whose revolutionary song and anti-crime campaigns had won him political plaudits and widespread popular support during his tenure in Chongqing, was the focus of a vocal campaign by leftists in the party establishment and other supporters during his trial.
His supporters took issue with a number of "serious issues" in the process of Bo's trial, arguing that key witnesses in the case had mental health problems, including Bo's former right-hand man and police chief Wang Lijun.
Wang Lijun's Feb. 6, 2012 flight to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu was the first public sign that all was not well in Chongqing following the the death of British businessman Neil Heywood the previous November.
Bo's wife Gu Kailai, who gave video testimony at his trial in August, was handed a suspended death sentence for Heywood's murder on Aug. 15, 2012, while Wang was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment the following September for corruption, defection and abuse of power.
Chinese political analysts have typically regarded Bo's downfall, the biggest scandal to hit the Communist Party in decades, as typical of a behind-the-scenes power struggle at the heart of the party.
Cai Yongmei, editor of the Hong Kong-based political magazine Kaifang, said Wang's actions were a sign of the growing pull towards populist politics and charismatic leaders among ordinary Chinese.
"It's similar to the Communist Party's own revolution [in 1949]; there was a very strong populist flavor to that revolution, too," Cai said.
But she said Bo was unlikely ever to make a political comeback.
"His hopes of a comeback were totally wiped out [by the rejection of his appeal]," Cai said.
Meanwhile, Wang told overseas media that Bo hadn't received a fair trial with due process, but declined to give details of the new party's membership.
"The tenet of our party is to protect the authority of the constitution," Wang said.
Freedoms of speech and assembly are guaranteed under China's constitution, but party power trumps all legislation in the absence of an independent judiciary, rights lawyers say.
Xie Jiaye, head of the California-based America-China Association for Science & Technology Exchange, said Wang's party had little hope of overturning the case against Bo.
"China's economic reforms have clearly resulted in a number of successes, but they have already created many problems," Xie said. "There is a lot of dissatisfaction at every level of society."
"There is a huge gap between rich and poor, corruption is on the rise, prices are inflating and the environment is polluted," he said.
Wang Zheng was detained briefly on two occasions after she wrote two open letters last year in support of Bo, after which she received floods of support and fan-mail from ordinary Chinese, she told Reuters.
"Everyone told me what kind of man Bo Xilai was—they were all ordinary people. Only then did I start to understand him," Wang said. "I went from having an objective, legal point of view when talking about him, to becoming a supporter."
She went on hunger strike after being put under house arrest last June for traveling to Chongqing to meet other Bo supporters, the agency said.
Calls to Wang's number went unanswered on Monday.
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Bi Zimo and Yang Jian for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.