The Year of the Monkey has been the year of shocks around the world, with Asia having its own share of drama. In the spirit of the season, Pacific Money hands out some presents to the political winners and losers across the Asia-Pacific, in hope of better times ahead in 2017.
Lenin power prize: Chinese President Xi Jinping
Xi cemented his political position ahead of 2017’s key Communist Party Congress with a crackdown on dissent, while achieving a managed slowdown of the world’s second-biggest economy despite fears of a hard landing. Reform of state-owned enterprises, industrial overcapacity and unsustainable debt levels are some of the issues left on the agenda, however, which could yet threaten Xi’s “stability above all else” approach.
Sato award for longevity: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Abe maintained high approval ratings and is in the running to become Japan’s longest-serving postwar prime minister, giving the center-right leader an opportunity to achieve his constitutional reform ambitions. Abenomics also received a much-needed shot in the arm from “Trumponomics,” with a weaker yen pushing Tokyo stock prices higher along with exporters’ earnings. However, despite Abe’s advocacy, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is dead without Washington’s support, denting the “third arrow” of structural reform.
Grabbing the cash prize: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
The Indian leader’s demonetization push aimed at cracking down on tax avoidance instead caused a severe currency shortage, hitting the small business sector and potentially causing a 2 percentage point drop in gross domestic product. However, the South Asian powerhouse is still seen holding onto its title in 2017 as the world’s fastest growing major economy, should Modi succeed with his reform push and manage potential external shocks.
Nelson Mandela award: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Suu Kyi was appointed State Counselor of Myanmar in April after leading her party to victory in last year’s elections, a rare triumph for democracy in Asia. Helped by the removal of sanctions, Suu Kyi’s government has also opened the doors to increased foreign and local investment, with the ambitious target of overtaking Singapore’s economy in 20 years. Satisfying public expectations will not be easy, but investors are voting with their wallets.
Breaking the mold award: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike
The Japanese capital’s first female governor, Koike won election even without the backing of her former party, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which stood its own candidate. The independent-minded leader has since moved quickly to challenge the status quo on key issues, including reining in costs on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and tackling environmental problems at the city’s proposed new fish market.
Good guy prize: New Zealand’s John Key
The “Mr. Nice Guy” of New Zealand politics, Key shocked the nation by quitting office after eight years in charge, and with his party set to win a fourth term in government. Saying he had never seen himself as “a career politician,” Key’s move has demonstrated that it is possible to quit while ahead, a lesson leaders across the region could well heed.
Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ’em award: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
The oldest and brashest leader to win the Philippine presidency, Duterte has successfully played off China-U.S. rivalry in the South China Sea to extract billions of dollars of new investment. However, crackdowns on major industries such as gaming and mining have worried investors, adding to criticisms of Duterte’s “steamrolling the rule of law” in an anti-drug campaign that has reportedly killed nearly 6,000 people, including children caught in the crossfire.
Biggest loser prize: South Korean President Park Geun-hye
Asia’s biggest political loser for 2016, the first woman elected president of South Korea has had her powers suspended after being impeached over a corruption scandal. After being previously ranked East Asia’s most powerful woman, Park’s dramatic fall has marked a turbulent year for Asia’s fourth-biggest economy, which remains over-reliant on exports and faces a hostile external environment, notably the continued threat from North Korea.
Political deafness prize: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak
The Malaysian leader has ignored corruption claims over the 1MDB scandal and public concerns over rising living costs to tighten his grip on power ahead of expected elections, potentially as early as March. Economic growth is also expected to strengthen in 2017, rising from 4.2 percent to 4.5 percent, helped by stronger oil prices and private consumption, despite headwinds including rising U.S. interest rates and a weakening currency.
Who will join the winners and losers list in the Year of the Rooster? On behalf of Pacific Money, happy holidays to readers everywhere and best wishes for a happier, and more prosperous, 2017.