KEEP AN EYE ON THEM
By Sangwon Suh
After the powerbrokers, there are the would-be powerbrokers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Indonesia, where the post-Suharto era has thrown up countless names that promise to figure prominently in the near future. Foremost among them is Sultan Hamengkubuwono X of Jogjakarta, 53. A longtime member of ruling Golkar, the sultan is acceptable to the main opposition leaders and is likely to be at the center of the coalition-building that will take place after June's parliamentary elections.
Another emerging player in the post-Suharto political flux is East Timor's former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao. With his homeland facing a real possibility of independence, Gusmao, 52, is expected to assume a key role in determining East Timor's future. Other notable names include Adi Sasono, 57; Aburizal Bakrie, 52; and Glenn Yusuf, 43. As cooperatives minister, Sasono has around $2.7 billion under his control and his support will prove crucial in the elections. Well-connected tycoon and self-described "crony" Bakrie is poised to emerge on top in the new business environment, while Yusuf, as chairman of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency, holds the country's financial destiny in his hands.
Neighboring Malaysia has also had its share of political uncertainty in the wake of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim's ouster. Filling in the vacuum may well be Education Minister Najib Tun Razak, 45, a leading contender in the race to be PM Mahathir Mohamad's successor. Another political up-and-comer is acting UMNO Youth chief Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, 37, who is likely to drop the "acting" from his title when the next party polls take place.
And in Thailand, there is Thaksin Shinawatra. The 49-year-old telecommunications tycoon is arguably the only credible opposition alternative to PM Chuan Leekpai and may emerge as a kingmaker in the next elections. The poster boy for the country's new generation of foreign-educated, media-savvy political talents is the dominant Democrat Party's Abhisit Vejjajiva, 34, who is widely seen as a PM in the making. A future counterweight to Abhisit is Chaturon Chaisang, 43, who recently became secretary-general of the opposition New Aspiration Party, Thailand's second-largest party.
The one to watch in Pakistan is Shahbaz Sharif, 48, younger brother of PM Nawaz Sharif. In addition to being chief minister of Punjab province, around which Pakistan's political establishment revolves, Shahbaz functions as a kind of ambassador-at-large, recently visiting South Korea and clinching a few business deals.
In Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou made the headlines last December by winning the Taipei mayorship for the ruling KMT. It is probably safe to say that the charismatic 48-year-old has his eyes on higher goals. His rival Chen Shui-bian, 48, may have lost the Taipei race, but the dynamic pro-independence oppositionist remains well placed to challenge KMT dominance.
A rising figure across the strait is Zeng Qinghong, 59. Recently made head of the organization department in the Communist Party's central committee, the trusted aide of President Jiang Zemin now controls all top appointments. Meanwhile, Beijing party boss Jia Qinglin, also 59, has been cleaning up the capital and its party machinery - and may yet go on to bigger things.
And who can leave out that bane of Japan's political establishment, Ishihara Shintaro? Elected governor of Tokyo in April, the 66-year-old maverick has already made waves with his anti-Beijing remarks. Makes one wonder what the remainder of his term will bring.
With Bureau reporting
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