China’s political elite are expected to oust disgraced figure Bo Xilai and jostle for leadership roles in their last formal meeting which opened Thursday ahead of next week’s landmark power handover.
The Communist Party’s Central Committee convened behind closed doors, state media said, with 500 senior members to debate key issues ahead of a congress which will open on November 8 to usher in leaders for the next decade.
The congress, which groups around 2,000 party members, is set to name Vice President Xi Jinping to succeed outgoing President Hu Jintao, while Vice Premier Li Keqiang is expected to replace outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao.
Little else is known about who will fill a supporting cast to run the world’s second-largest economy, and observers say candidates are still vying for top jobs in a game of intrigue played out beyond the view of the media.
Xinhua said the plenum of the 17th Communist Party Central Committee, which began Thursday and could last up to four days, will finalise several reports to be tabled at next week’s congress including an amendment to the Communist Party charter which it did not detail.
Former Communist Party star Bo was stripped of his parliament seat and lost legal immunity last week, paving the way for him to face charges of abuse of power, taking bribes and improper sexual relations.
A scandal surrounding him and his administration in the southwestern city of Chongqing, which has seen his wife convicted for the murder of a British businessman, has plagued the sensitive leadership transition.
The party announced in September that he would be expelled but his formal ouster is a final piece of housekeeping the leaders are expected to conclude before the congress starts, analysts say.
Observers say the scandal has split the top leadership, with reformers using it as ammunition to advance their push for democratic reform, while conservatives scrambled to shore up the image of a ruling party mired in corruption allegations.
Further complicating the political landscape is a New York Times report that last week said Wen’s family had accumulated assets worth $2.7 billion, in a blow to his self-styled image as a common man leading the fight against graft.
Ahead of the congress, the ruling party has further tightened already strict censorship of the media and Internet, while cities have been flooded with police and security personnel.
Over 1.4 million people have volunteered to help police “maintain stability” in Beijing in the run up to the landmark meeting, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
“Since early October, Chinese authorities have engaged in a campaign of intimidation and incarceration to preempt any potential expressions of dissent or protest,” Renee Xia, director of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders said in a statement.
“China’s top political leaders are very nervous, as they have since early this year been consumed by one of the most destabilising and disharmonious power struggles in decades.”