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Photo montage by Adam Connors
Out -- And Why

A 1999 Report Card

Power can die out. That may be a brutally obvious observation to make, but it remains worth stating -- and restating. Too many people who wield power tend to believe it's theirs for life, or at the very least their reason for life. It isn't and should not be on either count. For such people, when reality hits, the impact can be jarring.

Who Is Out (job/status) 1999 Ranking
Yanagisawa Hakuo, Japanese cabinet member 8
Hubert Neiss, director of the IMF's Asia department 10
Obuchi Keizo, Japan's prime minister 11
Nonaka Hiromu, Japan's chief cabinet secretary 12
Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Hong Kong's financial secretary 19
Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's reformasi standard-bearer 27
Tarrin Nimmanhaeminda, Thai finance minister 28
Suharto, former Indonesian president 29
B.J. Habibie, Indonesian president 31
Wiranto, Indonesian armed-forces supremo 32
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister 33
Eugenio Lopez Jr., Philippine tycoon 38
Manuel Pangilinan, Philippine CEO 39
Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive 41
Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh's prime minister 42
Khin Nyunt, Myanmar strongman 45
Le Kha Phieu, Vietnam's Communist Party chief 46
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar democrat 47
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Malaysian opposition figure 50

Suharto's fate is a cautionary tale. We removed Indonesia's onetime strongman from the Power 50 in 1998 because he was forced to step down, but restored him the following year because he still commanded backroom influence through protégés B.J. Habibie and Gen. Wiranto. Now, in 2000, they are gone from the ranking, and so is Suharto. While ex-president Habibie leads a quiet existence, Wiranto is being investigated for military abuses. And Suharto? Confined to Jakarta, grilled over corruption allegations, handicapped by ill health. No, power is not forever.

It can be extended, though. The smart money in Hong Kong is on Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa going for a second term when his current five-year stint expires in 2002. If Tung does "run," then he is sure to win as even his candidacy cannot take place without Beijing's victory-determining concurrence. But we opted to drop Tung this year. At a time when Hong Kong is agonizing mightily over its future directions, Tung has been all but absent in the past 12 months, except for over-exposed photo ops with Mickey Mouse to mark Disney's decision to build a theme park in Hong Kong. That critical boost for tourism aside, Hong Kong is adrift, and we have cast Tung loose too.

At loose ends stand many people who were on the Power 50 list last year, like Nawaz Sharif, Khin Nyunt, Aung San Suu Kyi and Le Kha Phieu. In the wake of the military coup that overthrew him, Sharif has been convicted of ordering the hijacking of the plane of his usurper, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and sentenced to life imprisonment. In the topsy-turvy world of Pakistan powermongering which has more than once seen the rebound of people seemingly confined to political oblivion, Sharif may well secure high office yet again (he has been PM twice already). But for now most Pakistanis accept that he is a goner, and so do we. Khin Nyunt and Suu Kyi are locked in a mutually debilitating stalemate over the battle for democracy. With neither side yielding, both lose, along with Myanmar's long-suffering people. So in this year's Power 50, the nation goes unrepresented. If Hong Kong is adrift, then Vietnam is positively marooned. The leadership is regressive and paranoid, the economy stuck. As general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Phieu is the most powerful man in the country. But in a fast-moving Net-paced world, Phieu and his party are dinosaurs. In Power 50 2000, they are left behind -- and left out.

Down and out is Anwar Ibrahim, ousted in September 1998 as Malaysia's deputy prime minister and heir to PM Mahathir Mohamad. Last year we kept Anwar on the list because the reformasi movement that he catalyzed was proving a thorn in Mahathir's side. But reformasi has become dormant and Anwar with wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, another reformasi stalwart, see their power places go to others. The opposition to Mahathir is now symbolized by the Parti Islam SeMalaysia and its most charismatic leader, Abdul Hadi Awang (call it Islamasi). If reformasi gets kickstarted again, expect Anwar and Azizah to slot back in. It won't be the first -- or last -- time that people return to the list.

Sometimes the difference between who wields power and who doesn't is not a matter of degree but of finality. Japanese prime minister Obuchi Keizo and Philippine tycoon Eugenio Lopez Jr. are no longer ranked simply because they passed away. Death will not be denied. The point is: the holding or relinquishing of power is often beyond our control. Unlike us, power can be resurrected. But like us, it is not immortal.

A 1999 Report Card

Ten out of 16 ain't bad. Of the 16 individuals we selected as people to watch in last year's Power 50, five broke into the list this year and another five remain future contenders. Former Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian has made the biggest impact, muscling into the No.6 spot by virtue of being elected Taiwan president (and ending the Kuomintang's monopoly on power in the process). Across the Taiwan Strait there is Zeng Qinghong, President Jiang Zemin's trusted aide, who comes in at No.20. Thaksin Shinawatra (No.34), whose Thai Rak Thai Party is seen as the most credible opposition force in Thailand, has prime ministerial ambitions -- and the financial muscle to back them up. At No.37 is the obnoxious yet effective Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro, while East Timor's rebel-turned-statesman Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao, de facto president of Asia's newest de facto nation, rounds off the list at 50.

Those who didn't make the cut but remain budding powerbrokers include the Malaysian duo, Najib Tun Razak and Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. In the recent party polls for the dominant United Malays National Organization, Najib was returned to the vice presidency, putting him in a good position, for the time being, to be a future leader. Hishammuddin was meanwhile confirmed as chief of the youth wing. Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou may have seen his archrival Chen grab Taiwan's top job, but the photogenic rising star of the Kuomintang burnished his reformist credentials during the post-election clamor for President Lee Teng-hui's scalp. In Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva and to a lesser degree Chaturon Chaisang are still among the best hopes for the future in the political sphere.

We are, however, only human. We've had our share of misses, some of them more spectacular than others. We tipped Indonesia's Glenn Yusuf for greater things, but the former banker ended up being bundled out of his position as head of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency. As Jiang Zemin's protégé, Beijing party chief Jia Qinglin looked to have a bright future, but a major smuggling scandal implicating his wife has done much to take the shine off his prospects.

Perhaps the one whose star has fallen the furthest is Shahbaz Sharif. A mover and shaker in Pakistan while his brother Nawaz was prime minister, he fell from grace faster than you could say "bloodless coup." Gen. Pervez Musharraf now occupies the spot that, under different circumstances, could have belonged to Shahbaz. Just goes to show that when all has been said and done, there is still no way to tame the fickle nature of destiny.

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Asiaweek Power 50 2000
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