International leaders to keep an eye on as the year unfolds
3. LK Advani (BJP, India)
The US may claim to be the world’s greatest democracy, but India has no rivals as the world’s biggest. This massive country will hold the world’s longest general election this spring, with voting taking place from 16 April to 13 May – and in terms of leaders could also be the world’s oldest matchup, with current PM Manmohan Singh of Congress, 76, facing the 81-year-old LK Advani of the BJP. (Rumours that Singh would be replaced by Rahul Gandhi proved not to be true, for now at least.) The BJP were in power up to 2004 under Vajpayee but their “India Shining” campign in 2004 was felt to have backfired as there were too many poorer voters for whom India was definitely not “shining”.
Indian elections are first-past-the-post, but there, apart from the use of English, the UK similarity ends. The country’s politics is becoming increasingly fractured and the number of parties makes Israel look straightforward – no fewer than 215 were on the ballot in 2004. The election is now difficult to call post-Mumbai, and the increased salience of security issues will not necessarily translate into increased support for the BJP, as evidenced by state elections in late 2008. With Pakistan in its current state, there may be increased concern if the Hindu-nationalist BJP, with Advani at the helm, replace the more secular Congress. Another key leader to keep an eye on, and the third possibility for PM, is Kumari Mayawati of the BSP – an excellent profile of her in The First Post.
4. Ichiro Ozawa (DPJ, Japan)
Japan’s voters, a notoriously conservative bunch and resistant to change, may yet unleash a revolution this year. The LDP has now been in power for most of the past fifty years but 2009 will provide its sternest test for many a long year. The current government is now on its fourth Prime Minister, with current incumbent Taro Aso having followed Koizumi, Abe, and Fukuda, and this combined with the economic climate may make it a “perfect storm” for the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to finally win power. Indeed as with the SNP in 2007, 2009 for the DPJ is very much a case of “if not now, then when?”. Party leader Ozawa is ex-LDP and is described in the Economist as a “master of the dark arts” and a “political heavy”.
A recent poll gave the DPJ a 19-point lead over the LDP, and it could well be that Aso, who did “a Gordon Brown” and decided against a snap election shortly after his accession to power last autumn, will go long and leave the election until the last possible date in September. New Komeito should also be taken into account – they are currently in coalition with the LDP (who would have a majority on their own!) and if the DPJ do not manage to secure a majority under the PR system, may well be open to jumping ship and forming a new government with the DPJ. Hillary Clinton reflected the current state of Japanese realpolitik by meeting Ozawa in her recent visit – although a corruption scandal may yet cause problems for the party. There are also rumours that the LDP might seek to ditch the highly unpopular Aso (ratings lower than Brown) and bring in a fifth PM ahead of the election – could Yuriko Koike get the nod?
Morus will be back on PB tomorrow
Mike, of course, tries to have weekends off