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Beijing (AFP) Nov 1, 2012
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 brought together ahead of a congress which will open on November 8 to usher in leaders for the next decade.
The larger 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.
At stake are believed to be between five and seven seats on the party's elite Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest decision-making body, and up to half of the 25 or so seats on the second-tier Politburo, analysts say.
Joseph Cheng, a expert on Chinese politics at City University of Hong Kong, said senior figures would have drawn up lists of candidates for the positions.
"These lists are important because they will effect personnel arrangements for top leaders at the ministries and in the provinces and so on, so these things have to be finalised," he told AFP.
One man once tipped for a senior role who will not be on the lists is Bo, who was stripped of his parliament seat and lost legal immunity last week, paving the way for him to face trial for corruption and other serious charges.
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.
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.
Observers say the affair 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.
In the absence of competitive elections, the ruling party has in the past 20 years sought to solidify a pattern of leadership transition that is predictable and stable in order to avoid power struggles, Cheng said.
"But with the Bo Xilai case, obviously the process has become more competitive and even ugly," he said.
Further complicating the political landscape is a New York Times report that said the prime minister'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.
Another scandal involves the son of a close aide of President Hu, who crashed a Ferrari in a fatal accident in March that raised questions about how the family of a politician could have accumulated such wealth.
State news agency Xinhua said the plenum of the outgoing 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 18th Party Congress.
These include an amendment to the Communist Party charter which it did not detail.
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."
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