The World's Most Powerful People
Image: Gary Cameron / Reuters
1. Barack Obama
President, United States of America
The decisive winner of the 2012 US presidential election on all counts: Obama took the popular vote, the electoral college and seven out of seven toss-up states. Now, he gets four more years to push his agenda past weakened Congressional Republicans. Still, he faces major challenges, including stubbornly high unemployment and renewed unrest in the Middle East. But Obama remains the commander-in-chief of the world’s greatest military and head of the sole economic and cultural superpower—literally the leader of the free world.
2012 HIGHLIGHT In June, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of ObamaCare’s ‘individual mandate’—and a conservative Chief Justice cast the deciding vote.
Image: Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters
2. Angela Merkel
The world’s most powerful woman is the backbone of the 27-member European Union and carries the fate of the euro on her shoulders. Merkel’s hardline austerity prescription for easing the European debt crisis has been challenged by both hard-hit southern countries and the more affluent north, but it, and she, are still standing. Merkel has served as chancellor since 2005, but one of her biggest challenges still lies ahead: Bolstering her government’s sagging popularity before the 2013 German general election.
2012 HIGHLIGHT The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize.
3. Vladimir Putin
Re-elected for a third six-year term as president in March after a few years swapping posts with Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Putin officially regains the power that no one believes he truly gave up. This October, the ex-KGB strongman—who controls a nuclear-tipped army, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves—turned 60. That’s Russia’s retirement age, but who’s got the nerve to tell him to quit?
2012 LOWLIGHT Global condemnation after the March jailing of anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot.
Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The world’s second-richest man is worth $65 billion—and that’s after giving away more than $28 billion. Gates’ post- Microsoft mission includes eliminating many infectious and deadly diseases: By his own estimates, that could translate into eight million lives saved by 2020. But the quintessential activist billionaire doesn’t stop there: Gates continues to persuade his peers to sign the ‘Giving Pledge’, promising to give away half their wealth or more.
2012 HIGHLIGHT Twenty-three more tycoons signed the Giving Pledge this year, bringing the total to 92.
5. Pope Benedict XVI
Pope, Roman Catholic Church
How’s this for a job description? According to the doctrine of Papal Supremacy, the Pope enjoys ‘supreme, full, immediate, and universal power’ over the souls of
1.2 billion Catholics around the world. They turn to the Vicar of Christ for the ﬁnal word on life’s most personal decisions, including birth control, abortion, marriage and euthanasia. Of course, the Pope faces dissent anyway—recently from ‘radical feminist’ American nuns. As the leader of Vatican City, he’s also a head of state.
6. Ben Bernanke
Chairman, US Federal Reserve
Big Ben has been on a buying spree: In a third round of quantitative easing, the Fed is now snapping up $40 billion a month of mortgage-backed securities and $45 billion of Treasurys. Result: Modest economic recovery and a near-record $2.9 trillion on the Fed’s balance sheet. The American economy’s ‘adult in the room’ recently warned that there is only so much the
Fed can do; politicians are the ones with
the power to keep us from going over that ﬁscal cliff.
2012 LOWLIGHT Recently admitted the ﬁnancial crisis may have “reduced the potential growth rate of our economy”.
7. Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud
King, Saudi Arabia
The absolute monarch of the desert kingdom controls 20 percent of the world’s known oil reserves and guards Islam’s holiest cities. The Arab Spring didn’t shake the ruling family’s control of the kingdom, but out-of-control youth unemployment remains a threat. Ageing Abdullah lost his second heir apparent in two years when his brother Crown Prince Nayef died in June; he’s been replaced by another brother, 76-year-old Crown Prince Salman, the former governor of Riyadh.