The toppling of acting Tianjin Communist Party boss and former Politburo contender Huang Xingguo could unleash a power struggle as forces vie for the coveted spot at the top ahead of next year’s reshuffle, analysts say.
Graft-busters announced late on Saturday that Huang, 61, was suspected of “serious violations of discipline”, a term that usually refers to corruption.
Huang’s fall means that a key municipality under the central government is simultaneously without a party chief and mayor for the first time since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
Huang was made mayor of Tianjin in 2007 and took on the extra role of acting party boss in 2014 but he had not yet been permanently appointed – an unusually long time in provincial politics.
Before falling under suspicion, Huang was seen as a contender for the party’s 25-member Politburo at next year’s party congress.
Political pundits said cadres would be eyeing the Tianjin vacancy as a stepping stone to the Politburo.
“The political network in Tianjin is extremely complex and close-knit. If one major official falls, it’s likely others will follow ,” Beijing-based political analyst Zhang Lifan said.
Huang’s last public appearance was on Friday, according to an official report.
Huang spent the first 30 years of his career in Zhejiang province. Under the watch of Zhang Dejiang, the province’s party chief at the time and now National People’s Congress chairman, Huang was appointed to a seat on the provincial standing committee.
Huang’s time in Zhejiang also briefly overlapped with Xi’s stint in the province.
Huang was Tianjin’s mayor when Vice-Premier and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli was the city’s party chief.
His downfall came 13 months after deadly warehouse blasts in Tianjin killed 162 people but many observers said the explosions might not have been the cause of his fall.
“It’s unlikely Huang is paying for the Tianjin blasts over a year after the tragedy,” Renmin University political analyst Zhang Ming said. “We can only guess that it has to do with power struggles within the political elite.”
Chen Daoyin, an associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science, said the party might assign Politburo members to serve as Tianjin’s party chief on a temporary basis to maintain stability, or ask a rising-star provincial governor to fill the position.
“This will pave the way for these rising stars to enter the Politburo at the party congress next year,” Chen said.