Five Leadership Transitions To Change The World

The past week has been remarkably busy for transitions in important leadership posts. All of these could change their respective regions, if not the world. Here is a round-up:

Venezuela: On March 8, Venezuela’s Vice-President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in as acting president, following the death of former president Hugo Chavez. Given Venezuela’s vast oil reserves, and its role as a key pillar of the ‘global left’, the evolution of the country’s politics and economy will have importance far beyond its borders. We expect Maduro to win the April 14 presidential election and continue Chavez’s policies. However, Venezuela under Maduro could well prove more unstable going forward.

Greenland: On March 12, Greenlanders voted out Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist’s socialist Inuit Ataqatigiit (Community of Nations) party and elected the opposition social democratic Siumut (Forward) party, whose leader, Aleqa Hammond, is set to become the new premier. Kleist had been eagerly courting foreign investment to tap Greenland’s vast natural resources, but voters, fearing a big influx of low-cost foreign labourers for new mining projects, pollution, and changes to their way of life, chose Siumut, which is more cautious towards foreign companies. Further coverage of Greenland is available to subscribers at Business Monitor Online.

Vatican: On March 13, white smoke appeared above the Vatican, signaling the election of a new Pope, who was revealed to be Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and who swiftly took the name Francis. He is the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years, and the first Latin American pope. Given that Latin America accounts for the largest share of Catholics in the world, his selection makes sense from a demographic point of view. And given the tremendous social influence that the Vatican has worldwide, the direction that Pope Francis takes the Catholic Church will be of great significance. The selection of a Latin American pope will also reinforce the perception that ‘global power is shifting south’ – or at least away from Europe.

China: On March 14, China’s National People’s Congress named Vice-President Xi Jinping as president, concluding a once-in-a-decade power transition, in this case to the ‘fifth generation’ of leaders. The Chinese presidency is largely symbolic, with Xi deriving his powers from the posts of Communist Party of China (CPC) general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission, which he had inherited at the CPC’s congress last November. Nonetheless, other important state posts such as the premiership and cabinet ministers are being filled. How Xi leads China will be of paramount importance to the world. The big questions are: can Xi rebalance China’s economy away from an export- and investment-led growth model towards one driven by private consumption in an orderly fashion? Can China improve its environmental problems? Will China experience rising pressure for democratisation? Will China’s rise be peaceful? Xi’s expected decade in power will provide the answers.

Japan: Also on March 14, the Japanese Diet approved Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s nominee, Haruhiko Kuroda, as the next governor of the Bank of Japan. Given that Abe is adopting much more aggressive quantitative easing and a looser fiscal policy to revive Japan’s economy, the identity of the BoJ governor and his relationship with the premier will be crucial. It’s also quite likely that Kuroda will be at the helm longer than Abe. The BoJ governor gets a fixed five-year term, whereas most Japanese prime ministers in recent years have struggled to last more than a year in office. How Japan fares economically and politically over the coming years will be of tremendous importance to the balance of power in Asia.

Naturally, there are other important power transitions approaching. Among other countries, we are closely watching moves to form new governments in Israel and Italy, and the change of presidency in Kenya.

This Week’s Trivia Question

Last week’s trivia question was about the 10th anniversary this week of the last time that a European prime minister was assassinated. We asked who that individual was, and also, who was the last European president to have met a similar fate. (Note: we exclude conspiracy theories here.) The answer to the first part is former Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic, who was shot in Belgrade on March 12, 2003, in a plot masterminded by a former Yugoslav special forces commander. The answer to the second part is, alas, also a Serb, namely former Serbian president (1986-1987) Ivan Stambolic, who was the political mentor of the late Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Stambolic disappeared in August 2000 and his fate was only revealed three years later – he had been murdered on the orders of Milosevic. The last time an incumbent European president was assassinated was 2004, when Ahmad Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin president of Chechnya, was killed in a bomb attack. Chechnya’s unrecognised president, Aslan Maskhadov, was also killed the following year.

This week’s question connects the Yugoslav and Chechen conflicts. Which American actor starred in both an early 2000s Hollywood film about the rescue of a downed American airman from Serbian-controlled Bosnia and a 1990s fictionalised portrayal of a US-Russia nuclear stand-off over the former’s support for Chechen separatists? (Hint: the actor’s character had a similar occupation in both films.)