China open letter opposes Bo Xilai parliament expulsion

File photo: Bo Xilai Mr Bo has not been seen in public since mid-March

A group of Chinese leftists have written an open letter asking parliament not to expel disgraced Communist party official Bo Xilai.

The letter, signed by more than 700 academics and former officials, was carried on the left-wing Chinese-language website Red China.

It said the move was legally questionable and politically motivated.

China's leftists are a small but vocal group to whom Mr Bo's populist policies appealed.

Expulsion from parliament would remove Bo Xilai's immunity, meaning he could be prosecuted over the scandal that has seen his wife jailed.

Analysis

China's leftists are a small but vocal group of academics and officials who argue that market reforms have gone too far, and the socialist goals of China's Communist Party founders have been forgotten.

They are not influential, and their viewpoints are not reported in the official media.

But the rise and fall of Bo Xilai, who they saw as a standard-bearer, has given them more prominence. They liked Mr Bo's housing projects for the poor, and his spreading of Mao-era nostalgia and Red Songs.

China's new leaders, set to be unveiled next month, will be keen to address some issues the leftists are raising - like a rising gap between rich and poor.

But nobody expects them to hark back to the past or change China's commitment to further economic reform.

Gu Kailai was given a suspended death sentence earlier this year over the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Mr Bo's former police chief and right-hand man Wang Lijun has also been jailed in connection with the scandal.

'Defend himself'

More than 700 academics and former party officials signed the letter in support of the former Chongqing Communist Party leader.

"What is the reason provided for expelling Bo Xilai? Please investigate the facts and the evidence," the letter said.

"Please announce to the people evidence that Bo Xilai will be able to defend himself in accordance with the law."

Those who signed include Li Chengrui, former director of the National Bureau of Statistics and currently a law professor at Peking University, local legislators and members of the now-closed online leftist forum Utopia, as well as a rights activist in Zhejiang.

Lin Longhua, who lives in Chengdu, Sichuan province, said he signed the letter "because I want China's legal system to be fair".

"I believe that the way Bo Xilai's case has been dealt with has seriously violated China's own legal procedures," Mr Lin told the BBC Chinese Service.

"I do not consider myself to be a leftist or rightist. What I just want is for... the country to have more democracy and freedom. I have never supported Bo Xilai before", he added.

Many Chinese internet users cannot access the Red China website, which has supported Bo Xilai, and the letter so far does not appear to have been reported in state m media.

But the letter exposes the deep divisions that continue to exist within the party over the Bo Xilai affair, reports the BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing.

Mr Bo's flamboyant populist style - including the promotion of old party songs and his policies for state-led growth - pitted him against reformist colleagues, our correspondent adds.

He has not been seen in public since mid-March, shortly after the scandal erupted and it was announced he was under investigation.

He was suspended from his party posts in April and expelled from the Communist Party in September. State media says he faces charges related to corruption, abuse of power and bribe-taking.

But, says our correspondent, supporters maintain that Mr Bo's enemies have used this scandal to end his career for political reasons.

Mr Bo, 63, had been a prime candidate for a top post in the leadership handover set for next month before the scandal broke.

China In just 35 years, China's ruling Communist Party has transformed the country from economic back-water to economic giant. Most Chinese have accepted its authoritarian and often brutal rule because they have grown richer and have seen their country's prestige restored. But as the Party prepares for a major leadership change, can such a rigid political system deliver the reforms China needs to move to the next stage of development?
Generational shift The Party, in power since 1949, holds no real elections. But it does now put strict age limits on leaders. As a result, thousands of senior party and government figures will retire after a congress due in November. The most keenly watched changes will be in the Politburo standing committee, China's most powerful body. Seven of the nine existing members are set to retire, ushering in a new generation.
New leaders How the secretive Party chooses leaders is poorly understood. But loyalty to Party elders and factional struggles are more decisive than beliefs or ability. The new politburo looks certain to be headed by Xi Jinping (centre), a "princeling" son of a privileged former official, and Li Keqiang (right), who has a more populist image. Other members, also likely to be men, have experience governing but little appetite for bold reform.
Model in doubt The priority for the new leadership is likely to be the economy, where growth appears to be slowing. Many analysts believe China's whole development model now needs to change. They want a bigger role for the private sector and for China's hard-pressed consumers to be encouraged to spend. But powerful vested interests inside the party, local governments and state-owned companies will contest any reforms.
Poor family in China China's economic model is creating a more unequal society, risking social tensions. The gap between rich and poor is among the widest in Asia. About 250m people who have migrated to cities receive inferior services. Central government has started tackling these issues, expanding education and health insurance. But local governments, who deliver most services, say they lack funds to do more.
Elderly couple in China Another big challenge is a rapidly ageing population. The deeply unpopular one child policy also means fewer young workers to pay for more retirees. Millions more farmers could move to the cities in coming decades, providing labour and spurring economic growth. But they may not go unless land rights are reformed and a registration system which discriminates against them is overhauled.
Chinese factory (left) and tree planting scheme workers (right) The biggest loser from China's economic success has been its environment. It is home to 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, while farmers' water is tainted by chemicals and fertiliser. There have been success stories, for example tree replanting and urban sewage treatment. But improving the environment while hundreds of millions of people want new homes, cars and consumer goods may be an impossible balance.
Crowd in China Critics say one party rule cannot cope with all these challenges. They want ordinary people to have more of a voice. But none of the new generation of leaders has shown any interest in political reform, let alone democracy. More likely, they will put social stability first and hope the economy can keep growing during their decade in power. If it slows, their problems will mount. (Text by Angus Foster)

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