By Megha Rajagopalan
JINAN, China, Sept 22 (Reuters) - A Chinese court will announce its verdict on former top politician Bo Xilai on Sunday following his 5-day trial last month on charges of corruption and abuse of power. He could be handed a long jail term by the Communist Party-controlled court.
The nature of the charges could even see Bo, 64, given the death penalty, but many observers say that is unlikely as the party will not want to make a martyr of a man whose left-leaning social welfare policies won much popular support.
Legal experts have said they thought the details of the actual charges laid against Bo suggested he would be spared the death penalty.
At the close of Bo's dramatic trial last month, prosecutors demanded a heavy sentence, saying his "whimsical" challenge to charges of bribery, graft and abuse of power flew in the face of the evidence. State media, which speaks for the party, has all but condemned him.
The verdict is expected to be announced by the court in the eastern city of Jinan, where Bo was tried, at 10 a.m. Beijing time (0200 GMT).
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post cited a source last week as saying the case could drag on as Bo is likely to appeal, and he believes one day his name will be cleared.
"I will wait quietly in the prison," Bo said in a letter to his family last week, according to the newspaper.
Bo was a rising star in China's leadership circles when his career was stopped short last year by a murder scandal. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of poisoning a British businessman, Neil Heywood, who had been a family friend.
Bo, who was Communist Party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, mounted an unexpectedly feisty defence during his trial, denouncing testimony against him by his wife as the ravings of a mad woman.
He repeatedly said he was not guilty of any of the charges, though he admitted making some bad decisions and shaming his country by his handling of former Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, who first told Bo that Gu had probably murdered Heywood.
Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu in February last year after confronting Bo with evidence that Gu was involved in the murder. Wang was also jailed last year for covering up the crime.
The state prosecutor said Bo should not be shown leniency as he had recanted admissions of guilt provided ahead of his trial.
Senior party figures fear Bo could stage a political comeback one day if he is not dealt a harsh sentence, sources told Reuters after the trial.
A light sentence could undermine President Xi Jinping's pledge to go after corrupt political heavyweights as harshly as those lower down the pecking order.
Bo cultivated a loyal following through his charisma and populist, quasi-Maoist policies, especially among those left out in the cold by China's anything-for-growth economic policies.
"The dissatisfaction certainly will remain, but I'm sure even when such dissatisfaction bursts up again, they will find other representatives, other spokespersons," said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City University in Hong Kong.
"So his political comeback is unlikely."