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An uncertain legacy for Bo, after fall from grace
Publication Date : 27-08-2013
The political career of former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai is expected to be over regardless of the outcome of his trial.
A guilty verdict awaits him as the Communist Party controls the courts and has likely brokered a deal on his punishment. His sentence could range from death, which is highly unlikely, to at least 15 years' imprisonment.
But while the 64-year-old, who was tipped for a seat in the apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) before he was purged in March last year, has little chance of a political comeback, observers say Bo might yet live on in spirit: either as an inspiration to those aspiring to a more populist form of politics on the mainland, or as a cautionary tale of the excesses of power for others.
Analyst Kerry Brown of the University of Sydney says Bo may have become a trailblazer for future Chinese leaders.
"He brought a fresh style of politics to China that was different compared to other top leaders. He tried to speak directly to people," says the China watcher.
"This style of politics will almost certainly become more common in the future. In that sense he was daring and an innovator."
Singapore-based analyst Bo Zhiyue believes Bo's influence will endure because of his ideas.
Many in China and even in the party see merits in his "Chongqing Model" - a big role for government and state-owned enterprises, a crackdown on mafia, and revival of Maoist culture - in the western municipality, says the East Asian Institute analyst.
"First, he promoted economic development and delivered outstanding growth. For the five years that he was there, Chongqing's economic growth ranked among the top in China," says Bo, an expert on Chinese politics.
He points out that Bo's welfare programmes like low-cost housing, which aimed to reduce the income gap, also resonated greatly with the poor nationwide.
Development of basic infrastructure also boomed during his tenure and a focus on improving the environment also went down well with the locals.
"You can see in Bo elements of Mao (Zedong) through the singing of 'red songs', elements of Deng (Xiaoping) through the pursuit of economic growth, and elements of Hu (Jintao) with the focus on sustainable development," says Bo, referring to the legacies of past supremos.
"That makes Bo, in some people's eyes, an embodiment of Mao, Deng and Hu, which is an image difficult to eradicate. So Bo, as a politician, is finished, but his spirit will live on."
But others say Bo will serve as a warning to those who decide to compete openly for top jobs or veer away from the party's preferred doctrine and growth path.
Beijing-based observer Professor Hu Xingdou says Bo's rise and fall would offer lessons for budding politicians on the need to avoid making enemies if they want to rise to the top.
"Bo's gravest mistake was his personality. He had no qualms resorting to unorthodox tactics to achieve his aims, which offended many people," says Hu.
Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam says the disgraced politician will also loom large in the minds of party leaders, who could be thinking hard about how to prevent another Bo from emerging.
"Lessons for the party: There should be better communication and 'give and take' among the different factions," he adds.
"They should divide the spoils in a more rational and win-win situation. Bo staged the moral equivalent of a coup d'etat as he felt he had been left out of the economic and political pie."
After the former commerce minister was given what he felt was the less prominent role of Chongqing party boss in 2007, he used the municipality to stage his campaign for a PSC seat at last year's Party Congress.
There was strong talk that he was even plotting to thwart President Xi Jinping's rise to the top job as Communist Party chief.
But perhaps the biggest factor ensuring Bo's political longevity is his huge popularity among the people, say observers, pointing to the turnout by his supporters at the courthouse in eastern Jinan city despite facing the risk of arrest by the police.
"With such a strong following, it will take some time for the party to completely remove Bo's shadow," says Wuhan University analyst Qin Qianhong.
"I believe he will remain a talking point in China - that is until the next Bo Xilai comes along."