BEIJING Three retired Chinese Communist Party officials issued a call on Friday for leaders to disclose their family wealth before a looming succession, warning that a scandal over the fallen politician Bo Xilai has exposed dangerous abuses of power.
The retired officials, led by Ma Xiaoli, have long been out of power and proposals from them and other party reformers have little prospect of shaping China's leadership succession, which will be settled at the party's 18th congress later this year.
But the public denunciation of corruption from members of China's political elite shows how the fall of Bo has magnified worries that self-enrichment and corruption by officials and their families is eroding the party's grip on power.
"This incident has particularly shocked the broad numbers of ordinary party members," the retired officials said, referring to the Bo case, in a letter that accompanied their petition to central leaders.
"What state is the party in that its high echelons produced a case of evil that far surpassed any story in The Thousand and One Nights?"
"Thoroughly rooting out corruption, and starting by eradicating corruption in the party's leadership, has become an urgent task that cannot be delayed. Tens of millions of eyes are fixed on the 18th party congress."
The petition is another aftershock from the downfall of Bo, an aspirant to the top leadership who was party chief of Chongqing, a provincial-level municipality in southwest China.
In April, the party suspended Bo from its top ranks and named his wife, Gu Kailai, a suspect in the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood.
Those announcements followed a furor over Bo and his family that erupted after his vice mayor, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate for 24 hours in February, alleging Gu was involved in killing Heywood. Wang also alleged Gu asked Heywood, a long-time friend of the Bo family, to help move money abroad.
POWER AND PROFIT
Bo, 62, and his wife, formerly a lawyer, have disappeared from view since March, and have not responded publicly to the accusations against them. Before his fall, Bo told reporters that his family was the victim of a baseless smear campaign.
Many Chinese people believe the allegations against Bo reflect widespread problems of officials and their families mixing power and profit - using political privilege to accumulate wealth far beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.
The signatories of the letters are retired officials well-known for favoring liberal political reforms.
Ma Xiaoli was a senior official in the party's United Front Department. Ren Xiaobin and Cui Wunian both served in the party Organisation Department, which oversees officials.
Candidates for the party's elite Central Committee "should and must disclose to the 18th congress their private and family wealth", they said in their petition, which was passed to Reuters by a friend of one of the retired officials.
The congress should anoint "a new central leadership that is trusted by all party members and the public and that is politically dependable, clean and incorrupt, offering a breath of fresh air", they said in the petition, which has circulated on the Internet.
The main signatory of the petition, Ma, is the daughter of a communist revolutionary who served under Mao Zedong. She has denounced corruption at meetings this year of other sons and daughters of party elders.
The petition was dated mid-February, but in the letter accompanying it, the signatories said they decided to make it public after receiving no response from central leaders.
"We ask that party members and the broader public help to promote it," they wrote of their demands.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)