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Bo Xilai’s charm offensive

world Updated: Mar 10, 2010 00:32 IST

Of the nearly 3,000 members of China’s ruling elite in the country’s capital this weekend to kick off the biggest political gathering of the year, only one has the state media and online commentators abuzz: Bo Xilai.

Named Man of the Year by a People’s Daily online poll, the subject of an adoring home video being circulated on the Internet and revered in countless blogs, Bo is in contention to be named to one of the top jobs in China in 2012, when many of the country’s current leaders are expected to retire.

In the three years he has served as the top Communist Party official in Chongqing, the country’s largest municipality, Bo has shaken up Chinese politics by becoming a wildly popular politician in a country where politicians are frowned upon.

“Bo Xilai is a selfless person and a fearless one. In these times, we need government officials like Bo . . . He chases justice for ordinary people,” said Li Lei, a 48-year-old entrepreneur. Li created the video tribute after reading about Bo’s crackdown on Chongqing’s mafia, a crusade that not only targeted corrupt businessmen but — in a departure from previous efforts — the senior-level government officials who colluded with them.

The official purpose of the meeting of the National People’s Congress from March 5 to 14 in Beijing is to review and pass new legislation. But given that there’s no separation of powers in China and that some who will vote on the laws were also involved in drafting them, the gathering is largely symbolic.

The more interesting discussions are happening behind the scenes, because this year’s people’s congress is the unofficial start of mid-term jockeying for the 2012 Communist Party Congress where the next generation of leaders will take the reins.

All eyes are focused on which of the “fifth generation leaders” like Bo are up and which are down.

In two years, more than half the members of the ruling Politburo are expected to retire or step aside. This would set the stage for newcomers to emerge as the principal figures responsible for the country’s operations.

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