The ruling Chinese Communist Party has moved to shake off the shadow of the Bo Xilai scandal ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, but calls from liberal politicians for political reform are likely to go unheeded, analysts said.
In its last plenary meeting ahead of the 18th Party Congress on Nov. 8, the Party's central committee "endorsed the decisions made by the Politburo...to expel former Chongqing municipal Party chief Bo Xilai" from its ranks, official media reported.
Bo, a former political rising star in the Party who was once seen as a contender for a place in the all-powerful Politburo standing committee, is accused of corruption and of bending the law to hush up the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood for which Bo's wife Gu Kailai has been found guilty.
Prosecutors formally began a criminal probe into Bo last month but have yet to announce charges, while lawyers hired by Bo's family told Reuters they have yet to be accepted by the authorities and have not been allowed to see their client.
Meanwhile, the son of late disgraced premier Hu Yaobang, whose death sparked a wave of anti-corruption and pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989, has called on the eve of the new Congress for political reform—a path so far studiously avoided by China's leadership since former supreme leader Deng Xiaoping ushered in economic reforms in 1979.
In a commentary on Saturday in the Beijing-based Economic Observer newspaper, Hu Deping wrote: "Reforms cannot be wasted, promises cannot be abandoned."
Hu's warning that China’s problems threaten the nation’s healthy development, violate people’s rights, and undermine the Party’s ability to govern, comes as vice-president Xi Jinping gears up to take over the top job from president Hu Jintao.
Xi is expected to take charge at a time of growing unrest over social inequality, corruption, and environmental pollution, as well as slowing economic growth and an aging population.
According to Hu Deping—who wrote as a member of the advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference—the Party’s unchecked power has resulted in political interference in the judicial system and serious violations of people’s rights that are protected by the Constitution.
According to U.S.-based commentator Liu Nianchun, Hu Deping's article is unlikely to have much effect, however.
"The [Communist Party] said before they came to power that they would never go in for a one-party dictatorship, but what has the reality been?" Liu said.
"When they got into power, their [dictatorship] was even worse than that of the Kuomintang Nationalist Party."
Hu's article said that the Party and the nation currently face two fundamental issues.
"The first is its determination to push ahead with reform and opening-up, including its economic system and its political system, while the second is how to further implement socialist constitutional government and rule of law,” he said.
Bottleneck on reforms
Meanwhile, Professor Xia Ming, a political science teacher at the College of Staten Island in New York, said that political reforms have reached a bottleneck because Deng's economic reforms haven't been taken far enough.
"One issue is the separation of government from enterprise, and the other is the lax financial regulation of state-owned enterprises," Xia said.
"Actually, the current wealthy capitalist elite is in the process of diluting a lot of the market reforms of the 1980s."
Xia said Hu Deping's call for the rule of law to apply in Chinese courts is currently undermined by the system of political and legal affairs committees, which influence judicial decisions at every level of government.
He added that freedom of the press will also be necessary for political reforms to be possible.
On the economy, Hu said the monopoly of state-owned enterprises must be broken up and the social security system must ensure that the old, the young, and the sick are provided for.
"We need to create conditions to let private enterprises enter monopoly industries, encourage fair and lawful competition, and create and regulate open and fair markets," he wrote.
Nine members of China's highest decision-making body, the Politburo standing committee, are due to step down at the Congress, when 2,270 delegates will begin meeting over several days to decide who will replace them.
President Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao will retire, while Xi Jinping and vice-premier Li Keqiang, who is widely tipped to replace Wen, are expected to have a place on the new committee, which reports say could number only seven.
However, analysts said on Monday that a reshuffle in China's military top brass to include two generals close to Hu Jintao suggests that the president may remain in his position as commander-in-chief of the military even after stepping down as chairman of the Party.
Hu presided over the promotion of Generals Fan Changlong and Xu Qiliang as vice chairmen of the powerful 12-member Central Military Commission (CMC), Xinhua news agency said at the weekend.
In an apparent bid to stave off mounting criticism over rampant official corruption and the high-flying lives of China's political elite, outgoing premier Wen has ordered a probe into his family's assets after a report in the New York Times alleged his relatives hold U.S.$2.7 billion in secret assets.
Fang Dehao, a former journalist for the Chinese-language edition of Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, said the probe would probably be an internal, Party investigation, however.
"Currently, not a single member of the Politburo standing committee declares their assets publicly," Fang said. "None of them is likely to do this individually, either."
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.