When a leader amasses unbridled power, the question that arises is: does it make the leader more powerful or more vulnerable. It’s a question that many in the world must ponder over in their own national contexts, since the list of such leaders is only growing: Erdogan, Putin, Xi, Modi, Duterte.
But can such ambitious leaders have the foresight to take long term decisions for the economy?
The dragon must slow down
China needs to slow down for its own good. To effectively use his clout to catch up with the United States as the world’s leading economic superpower, Xi Jinping will have to recognise that to grow stronger, China will have to grow slower, argues Ruchir Sharma in The New York Times.
“In its rush to catch the United States, China has been prioritizing growth that is wildly ambitious for a maturing, middle-income country. To hit its growth target, Beijing has been pumping record amounts of debt into the state-owned industries of Old China. Those debts now represent the biggest threat to the New China and Mr. Xi’s superpower ambitions.”
“The most important step Mr. Xi could take is to scrap the habit of setting growth targets. To stabilize debt at the current level, China would need to accept growth of no more than 5 percent — about the pace of previous “miracle” economies like Japan and South Korea at a similar stage of development. To aim higher is to push China toward a debt crisis that could derail growth for years.”
“If China’s economy is allowed to slow further — as previous miracle economies did at a similar stage of development — it will take longer for the economy to match the size of the United States economy, certainly much longer than China’s leaders had hoped. Better, though, to be remembered for putting China on the long path to real superpower status than the shorter path to crisis.”
Russia after Putin
As parallels between Jinping and Mao abound, those between Vladimir Putin and Stalin aren’t particularly rare either. In fact, Putin may very well be Russia’s 21st Century tsar.
“Seventeen years after Vladimir Putin first became president, his grip on Russia is stronger than ever,” says a piece in The Economist. “Like a tsar, Mr Putin surmounts a pyramid of patronage…These days the boyars serve at his pleasure, just as those beneath them serve at their pleasure and so on all the way down. He wraps his power in legal procedure, but everyone knows that the prosecutors and courts answer to him. He enjoys an approval rating of over 80% partly because he has persuaded Russians that, as an aide says, ‘If there is no Putin, there is no Russia.’”
And this is the crucial question. Who will succeed the tsar? “Without the mechanism of a real democracy to legitimize someone new, the next ruler is likely to emerge from a power struggle that could start to tear Russia apart. In a state with nuclear weapons, that is alarming.”
Jinping’s weakness lies in his unbridled power
While the world has taken note of Xi Jinping’s increasingly growing might in China, David Ignatius argues that the President may actually be more vulnerable than he looks, writes David Ignatius in The Washington Post.
“Several leading analysts argue that Xi’s dominance is now so complete that it carries a kind of vulnerability. He owns China’s economic and foreign policies so totally that he’ll get blamed for any setbacks. Perhaps more important, his power play may worry older Chinese who remember the damage done by Mao’s cult of personality.”
“Will other top Chinese officials dare to question Xi? Analysts noted the mostly impassive posture during Xi’s long speech from Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji, former president and prime minister, respectively. The gathering wasn’t attended by Li Rui, a deeply respected 100-year-old former secretary of Mao who suffered during the Cultural Revolution and helped establish the institutions of post-Mao collective leadership.”
“Chinese strategists have traditionally argued that it’s wise to appear less powerful than you really are and take adversaries by surprise. This approach is no longer possible for a monarchical Xi. He must beware the weakness inherent in his dazzling display of strength.”
A voice of his own
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who was once written off as a “weak functionary” is now more popular than ever and is systematically defying predictions of Baghdad’s doom, writes Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post.
“After championing the reconquest of Mosul, Abadi has over the past month forcefully stared down a Kurdish independence bid and extended the Iraqi government’s reach into disputed areas controlled by Kurdish militias since 2014.”
“Abadi is keen to latch on to that success story and steer Iraq out of the shadow of war and ruin. But that doesn’t mean he’s inclined to do America’s bidding. Just this week he rebuffed a request from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to disband elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces, predominantly Shiite paramilitary forces that were crucial to the war effort against the Islamic State. U.S. officials see some of these units as Iranian proxies.”
“But Abadi is no Iranian stooge, either. He has recently courted a range of countries hostile to Tehran — including Saudi Arabia and Egypt — in a bid to win further investment in Iraq.”
“And he refuses to accept the idea of his country as a battleground for larger geopolitical games. ‘We would like to work with you, both of you,’ Abadi said of the United States and Iran, in his interview with The Post. ‘But please don’t bring your trouble inside Iraq. You can sort it anywhere else.’”
Brussels’ unenviable record on sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of violence against women in the European Union, writes Joanna Maycock in Politico EU. And, “in most cases, it remains invisible, too often unreported and trivialized.”
“Brussels has introduced policies to tackle sexual harassment, but not enough attention has been paid to making women feel safe enough to come forward and report incidents of abuse.
Women — unfortunately quite rightly — sense that there are no real mechanisms to ensure perpetrators are adequately punished. Worse, they often feel that the consequences of reporting an incident will be worse for the victim than for their aggressor,” she rues.
“If European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan to increase the number of women in decision-making positions to 40 percent by 2020 is to be successful, a cultural shift needs to take place in Brussels. Taking action and holding perpetrators accountable shouldn’t merely be an exercise in PR or damage control.”
“It’s high time the EU shows it won’t stand for sexist behavior. Women’s voices are too many and too loud to ignore.”