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Updated: March 9, 2012 02:04 IST

Chinese leader's absence stirs debate

Ananth Krishnan
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Chongqing Mayor Bo Xilai attends the opening session of the party meet in Beijing on Saturday. File photo
Chongqing Mayor Bo Xilai attends the opening session of the party meet in Beijing on Saturday. File photo

The absence of a leading Chinese politician and rising star in the Communist Party of China (CPC) at a meeting here on Thursday has renewed speculation about an upcoming leadership transition amid a political scandal.

Politburo member Bo Xilai, CPC chief in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing, was the only one among the Poliburo's 25 members not seen at a meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC), Chinese Parliament, on Thursday, according to media reports.

Mr. Bo, who attended the NPC's opening session over the weekend, has been at the centre of the biggest drama in recent years to grip politics. Last month, his right-hand man, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, showed up at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu reportedly seeking asylum.

Mr. Bo even reportedly offered to resign for the failings of his once close associate, who helped launch the Chongqing leader as a national figure in 2009 for spearheading a corruption crackdown that brought down some 1,500 tainted officials.

Analysts say the political future of Mr. Bo, who was until recently tipped as a favourite for a seat on the next nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, has been cast in doubt over the incident, with Beijing angered by the unwanted attention — and not to mention the involvement of U.S. officials — during a significant succession year.

Beijing has been tight-lipped over the episode, playing down its implications. Chongqing's mayor Huang Qifan told Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television this week that he had only gone to Chengdu to persuade Mr. Wang to return to Chongqing, before adding he had helped avoid a “foreign policy crisis” situation. Reports had said the mayor had chased Mr. Wang all the way to the U.S. consulate with 70 police cars in tow. The former police chief was subsequently taken by security officials to Beijing, where he is still being investigated.

The NPC will on Friday discuss a revised criminal procedure law that was introduced on Thursday, and has been welcomed by legal scholars for not including an article that would legalise police ‘disappearances' without the notification of family members. According to the amended law, families will have to be notified within 24 hours, and detentions without notifications can only be made in cases involving national security.

Many legal activists have however expressed concerns that state security has been invoked in the past on a wide range of cases, often even involving political dissidents. Chen Guangzhong, a legal scholar with the Renmin University of China, warned that the use of such measures lacked adequate supervision, and it was “important to let prosecutors or other parties monitor the practice since it can infringe upon people's civil rights and could be abused.”

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