Eurasia Group, a global political risk advisory and consulting firm released on Wednesday, its list of 10 leaders to watch in 2008.
The list includes leaders whose performance will have global implications. “The first four leaders on our list—from Iran, France, Russia, and Pakistan—will be making decisions for their countries that have powerful geostrategic implications,” said the Eurasia Group.
“Iran’s conflict with the West and Pakistan’s internal conflict could have dramatic implications for global security in 2008, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Pervez Musharraf are key players in these struggles,” it added. The list also includes those who will exert considerable influence on their own countries which, in turn, have important roles to play in the emerging global order. Some of the countries involved, “Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria, India, Brazil, and Turkmenistan, are among the most important developing countries in the world,” according to Eurasia Group. The list of 101 includes Mayawati Kumari, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Mint presents a snapshot of Eurasia Group’s 10 leaders to watch in 2008.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader, Iran
Khamenei is Iran’s most powerful policymaker and, according to the Eurasia Group, “has to steer Iran through a high-stakes standoff with the West.” Iran and the West have beensparring over the former’s nuclear policy. “With his relatively low profile and calm personality—in contrast to firebrand president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad —he has played a balancing role among Iran’s many power centres, which include the presidency, the parliament, the Revolutionary Guard, the judiciary, and the intelligence services,” said the Eurasia Group. In 2007, Khamenei supported Ahmadinejad’s aggressive stance on the country’s nuclear policy. This year, the Eurasia Group said, he will have to head a country that will see a rise in unemployment and inflation. In March, Iran goes to the polls, and the resulting parliament could be opposed to Ahmadinejad. Khamenei’s “decisions on these matters will have significant ramifications for political risk far beyond Iran’s borders in 2008.”
Sarkozy, France’s new president begins a visit of India today and hopes to build significant business and other relations with the country.
Sarkozy’s “focus on international economic issues and emerging global security challenges will do much to shape Europe’s external relations in coming years,” said Eurasia Group.
Sarkozy also faces important internal challenges because he wants to make France’s labour market more flexible and reduce the size of the country’s bloated private sector.
According to Eurasia Group, he “will continue to focus his economic policies on issues specific to France, rather than a broader European Union agenda.”
“In some areas, the EU’s goals and Sarkozy’s agenda will be aligned. But in other areas, they will not.”
In a year when a recession in the US turns some of the spotlight on to Europe, Sarkozy will have a key role to play.
Putin will step down from his post in March, becoming the first leader in Russia’s recent history to give up power voluntarily. Under him, the country has become a significant economic force and recaptured some of its past glory as a rival superpower to the US. Putin, who finishes eight years in office in March, will be succeeded by his chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev who has already offered his mentor the post of prime minister. According to Eurasia Group, “Putin will remain at the centre of Russia’s political and economic system, and the country’s resurgent foreign policy will continue to develop according to principles developed under his administration.” The group added that “in 2008, Putin will manage the presidential transition, guide and train Medvedev to lead, continue to balance the major factions and, possibly, decide whether to return to the Kremlin four years hence.”
The crisis in Pakistan that peaked with the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto is far from over.
As the Eurasia Group puts it, “in 2008, President Pervez Musharraf will demonstrate whether he is part of the problem or part of the solution to Pakistan’s political crisis.”
The group also said that if there was one thing that is certain it is that “he cannot continue to hold power as tightly as he has since 1999.” It is likely that in the coming election, the two main opposition parties, the Pakistan’s People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz perform well. That could lead to a situation where Musharraf has to share at least some power with these parties.
Thus, far, Musharraf has not shown his willingness to do this. “His continuing resistance to the inevitable political transition risks unrest and his removal from power,” said the Eurasia Group.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
If the Asian crisis of the late 1990s wreaked havoc with Indonesia’s economy, then it was the leadership of Yudhoyono that has seen the country’s economy come back on track. Still, there are considerable challenges Yudhoyono faces in a country where a large proportion of the population is made up of Muslims. “He must achieve further reforms to sustain growth and prevent the rise of Islamist or populist leaders,” said Eurasia Group.
Yudhoyono does not believe in fast reforms. “In part, this is due to his slow and consensus-driven decision-making process and, in part, it is because he must work with an entrenched political system and the Golkar party in particular,” said Eurasia Group.
However, if this slow process affects economic growth, it could present an ideal opportunity for an Islamist, populist or military leader to challenge Yudhoyono.
President, African National Congress
Zuma is the new president of the African National Congress that rules over South Africa. However, this does not necessarily mean he will succeed President Thabo Mbeki after the country goes in for general election in 2009. “Zuma won the election with 61% of the votes in the first contested competition for the ANC presidency in over 50 years, but will also face charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering, and racketeering in 2008,” said Eurasia Group. Some of Zuma’s support, however, comes from left-leaning parts of the ANC and from the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Although Zuma has promised to leave the country’s economic policies untouched should he become president, according to Eurasia Group, “it is unclear how Zuma would reconcile this approach..... when faced with strong demands from SACP and COSATU.”
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua
His mandate was controversial but it will likely be confirmed in 2008 and that should help improve political stability in the country with the most population in Africa.
Yar’Adua’s “most important achievement will likely be a comprehensive peace deal for the Niger Delta, which will reduce militia violence and boost crude oil exports,” said Eurasia Group.
That could help the country’s plans for its oil and gas business.
Specifically, it will help Nigeria exceed its OPEC quota for oil production and move towards becoming the third largest exporter of liquefied natural gas in the world.
India, chronically short of gas, could benefit from these exports.
“Yar’Adua will continue to work with regional powers to prevent the expansion of US military bases throughout Africa and advance Nigeria’s own political and economic interests on the continent,” said Eurasia Group.
Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh
There are dalits across India. Mayawati, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has set out to capture their support, and parlay this into an advantage at the next election. Her party won the mid-2007 election to the state assembly in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. “The BSP will play an important role in the next national election; she (Mayawati) might even become the prime minister at some point,” said Eurasia Group. That’s also because BSP has been steadily broadening its base —not ignoring the dalits even as it finds support among other castes, such as the Brahmins. “Her formula for a rainbow coalition support base— which includes dispossessed upper castes as well as lower castes— cuts directly into the Congress Party’s voter base,” said Eurasia Group which said it believes Mayawati “could change the fundamental contours of Indian politics.”
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
One of the BRIC countries, Brazil finds itself at the crossroads.
A late 2007 decision by Lula’s government not to renew a key tax has meant the loss of $22 billion in revenue, something “which will pressure the government to make difficult expenditure cuts,” according to Eurasia Group.
That’s not easy, especially at a time when the country faces significant infrastructural challenges such as the chronic shortage of power. “Brazil faces possible power outages as early as 2009 if power generation capacity cannot keep pace with economic growth; the government’s goal of keeping tariffs low for consumers has led to insufficient investment in both power capacity and infrastructure. New infrastructure in the country’s transport infrastructure is also desperately needed,” said Eurasia Group. To raise funds for these, the government will likely aggressively woo private investors.
The world’s obsession with oil and gas makes Berdymukhamedov one of the most significant and powerful politicians in central Asia. Turkmenistan has significant oil and gas resources, although its energy partners such as Russia and China have some say in how these are to be developed. To really tap its resources, however, the country will have to allow foreign investment and at attractive terms. This, according to Eurasia Group, will be determined by “domestic politics.” Meanwhile, there are other issues.
“He inherited numerous economic development and social welfare problems that remain to be addressed.... (and)... a distorted political system that orbits around the head of state,” said Eurasia Group. Berdymukhamedov’s decisions won’t just have an impact on how strong a player the country becomes in the global energy arena, but also on its own prosperity.