Asia’s Year of the Rooster has seen plenty of drama around the region, with some (politically) crowing louder than others. In the spirit of the festive season, Pacific Money hands out some gifts to the winners and losers of 2017.
Lenin power prize: Xi Jinping
A prizewinner for the second straight year, Chinese President Xi Jinping successfully cemented his hold on power at the Communist Party’s 19th National Congress, even getting his name written into the constitution with “Xi Jinping Thought.” While now entering his second five-year term, analysts suggest he could even secure a third or fourth term, thanks to the lack of an obvious successor in the Politburo Standing Committee. Yet with China’s high debt levels and a slowing economy, Xi will have his hands full in avoiding a crash while pushing through much-needed reforms.
Sato award for longevity: Shinzo Abe
Another two-time winner, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe once again outsmarted his political opponents with his surprise early election delivering a sweeping victory. He could even become Japan’s longest serving postwar leader, should he win another three-year term as party president in September’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) poll. In the meantime, he will have to manage the North Korean crisis and attempt to push through further economic reform by delivering the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, while giving the economy sufficient altitude to ride out the planned 2019 consumption tax hike.
Graceful departure award: Emperor Akihito
Japan’s Emperor Akihito wins a prize for the deft handling of his abdication, the nation’s first in more than 200 years. After hinting at his desire to retire in August 2016, the well-loved Emperor had his wish granted by the Diet, which enacted a one-off law in June allowing the abdication. The Emperor will step down in April 2019, with the pressure on his successor, Crown Prince Naruhito, to replicate his father’s success in becoming one of Japan’s most admired figures globally.
The balancing act award: Moon Jae-in
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s triumphant election victory in May has been all but overshadowed by the North Korean crisis, with the North’s belligerence preventing a successful “Moonshine” policy of engagement. But on top of that, the former human rights lawyer has had to play a political balancing act between China, the nation’s largest trading partner, and the United States, its key security ally. While China has applied economic pressure on Seoul over its acceptance of the U.S.-supplied THAAD missile system, Moon has also faced calls from Washington for the renegotiation of the “horrible” U.S.-South Korea trade pact. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
The Beatles award for lasting popularity: Narendra Modi
Three years after assuming office, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has maintained high support ratings, with the latest Pew Research Center survey suggesting seven-in-10 Indians held a “very favorable” view of the reformist leader. Despite a growth slowdown, a new goods and services tax, and demonetization reforms, more than eight in 10 Indians believe economic conditions are favorable, with 76 percent thinking their kids will do better also. With Modi’s BJP recently scoring victories in two state elections, and the main opposition Congress Party lacking a popular leader, Modi appears set for an extended term in office, which will be vital to delivering on his reform efforts.
The “Crocodile Dundee” prize for political survival: Malcolm Turnbull
With enemies within and without, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has earned the “Crocodile Dundee” prize for political survival as he enters his third year as leader. Along with a succession of poor opinion polls and constant sniping by internal enemies, the center-right leader also had the near-death experience of losing a number of government lawmakers to citizenship issues. Fortunately, the latest by-election resulted in the Coalition maintaining its slender one-seat majority in the lower house, while Turnbull can also point to his successful implementation of gay marriage following a national poll, an issue that threatened to split the government asunder.
The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde prize: Aung San Suu Kyi
From Asia’s champion of democracy and Nobel Peace Prize winner to alleged sponsor of ethnic cleansing and media repression, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has shown a performance worthy of Jekyll and Hyde. After winning more than 120 international honors, including the Nobel prize, Suu Kyi has now had the indignity of past honors being revoked by Dublin and Oxford college due to the purge of Rohingya Muslims. With two Reuters journalists recently detained for reporting on the crisis, Suu Kyi is unlikely to win any favors from the international media either.
The snatching defeat from the jaws of victory prize: Bill English
The affable Bill English was handed the reins of power in New Zealand last December, when the “Mr. Nice Guy” of politics, John Key, decided to quit on his own terms. English inherited a healthy budget surplus and an economy set for its ninth straight year of growth, giving the government plenty of largesse to distribute. Yet despite facing an untested Labor leader in September’s election, and even securing nearly half the popular vote, English ended up on the wrong side of history after failing to win the post-election horsetrading for a parliamentary majority.
The Icarus award: Yuriko Koike
Popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was considered Japan’s most likely first female leader, after her success in taming the Tokyo bureaucrats and defeating the incumbent LDP. However, her move to form her own “Hope” party to challenge Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP in October’s general election badly backfired, with Koike being seen as too heavy-handed in weeding out leftist candidates. The former defense minister apologized for her party’s failure in the poll, which produced a landslide for Abe amid a badly split opposition. Koike’s ability to revive her national ambitions will now depend on her success as governor, where she faces the challenge of avoiding a cost blowout at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, along with the on-again, off-again move of the landmark Tsukiji fish market to new premises.
The shoot first, ask questions later prize: Rodrigo Duterte
From personal boasts of knifing someone to urging police to kill his own son if found guilty of drug trafficking, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s fiery rhetoric has made him popular with voters tired of crime and corruption. Despite a crackdown on drugs that has reportedly killed more than 4,000, sparking criticism from human rights groups, Duterte’s success in liberating Marawi City from Islamist rebels and tax reforms that have raised take-home pay helped give him a 71 percent satisfaction rating in the latest opinion poll. Having completed only one year of his six-year presidential term, Duterte has plenty of time on his side to spring even more surprises at home and abroad.
With 2017 rapidly drawing to a close, Pacific Money will next take a look at the outlook for 2018, the Year of the Dog. In the meantime, season’s greetings to readers everywhere and our best wishes for a happy New Year.