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Over the next few weeks northern hemisphere leaders will be shuttering their summer houses, closing up their dachas, leaving the onsen and getting ready to face what’s set to be a budget-slashing end of year for parliaments of every political persuasion. Will the presidents and prime minister be forced to go to the polls – or even to the barricades – if the cuts cause too much pain? Are, they may wonder, any jobs going at the World Bank or United Nations?

In Beijing, Brasilia and New Delhi the picture will look far rosier from the sunlounger – their lines on the growth chart just seem to climb higher and higher. But even here, they have problems to fret about, from aching poverty to dodgy global brands.

So before the north’s leaders head back to their capitals, we’ve compiled report cards to see who (from both hemispheres) will be top of the class by the close of 2010 – and who faces expulsion. We’ve rated them for their performances at home and abroad and their personal brands and international appeal.

1 A

Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva

Brazil

How is the economy?
Brazil has never had it so good. The former trade union firebrand has proved a pragmatic economic manager. Lula has balanced export and market-friendly policies with pioneering social programmes that are reducing poverty rates faster than India or China. Critically, he’s also tamed inflationary pressures that have derailed past booms.

Other challenges?
With only a few months left in office, Lula has his hands full convincing voters to take a chance on his handpicked successor, Workers Party candidate Dilma Rousseff – a one-time guerrilla who’s never held elected office (see page 54).

Best leadership skills?
He showed courage in resisting quick fixes and checking radical elements in his party. He’s also able to connect with the little guy.

And his worst?
That loose tongue (soft-pedaling human rights abuses in Cuba and Iran) has undermined his democratic credentials.

Is he popular at home?
His approval rating is more than 75 per cent.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
No leader today can match the adulation Lula enjoys abroad.

2 B+

Barack Obama

USA

How is the economy?
There are signs that the economy is picking up, albeit slowly. Unemploy-ment remains high and Obama overpromised on his stimulus bill.

Other challenges?
Republicans are working hard to make November’s midterm elections a referendum on Obama and Democratic congressional leaders. The opposition party could reclaim control of the House and Senate; one switching of hands could stop Obama from accomplishing anything significant for the rest of his term.

Best leadership skills?
He signed bills to reform the medical insurance system and Wall Street within a few months.

And his worst?
He has yet to rally majorities around the healthcare or financial-regulation bills.

Is he popular at home?
Yes, even if voters are unsold on his agenda. Plus, Republicans do not have a likeable leader of their own.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
Yes. Even though he has maintained Bushian policies on Afghanistan and Guantanamo, his conciliatory style has respositioned the US internationally as an assertive partner rather than an arrogant bully.

3 B+

Manmohan Singh

India

How is the economy?
He’s the man behind India’s wildly successful economic liberalisation of 1991. India managed to sidestep the global crisis partially thanks to solid growth in recent years and measures aimed at stoking local demand. The IMF predicts India’s growth this financial year – ending March 2011 – will be 9.4 per cent.

Other challenges?
To quell India’s security issues, ranging from Maoists in the centre to Kashmiri turmoil in the northwest. There are tensions with India’s neighbours, Pakistan, China and Bangladesh. And India must ensure that its new- found wealth filters down.

Best leadership skills?
“He’s proven his mettle in barrelling through the civilian nuclear deal with the US against formidable opposition,” says Dow Jones India news editor Abhrajit Gangopadhyay.

And his worst?
For all his cerebral qualities, he is no statesman.

Is he popular at home?
Yes, especially as he is not tarred by corruption, unlike many Indian politicians.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
At June’s G20 meet in Toronto, Obama said of Singh, “When the prime minister speaks, people listen.”

4 B+

Donald Tusk

Poland

How is the economy?
A tough policy of minimal subsidies for industry during the financial crisis seems to have paid dividends as Poland has better economic data than many of its neighbours.

Other challenges?
Previously Tusk was ruling with Lech Kaczynski as president – much legislation was never even proposed as it was clear that his political opponent would block it. After Kaczynski’s death in the plane crash near Smolensk, Tusk’s political ally Bronislaw Komorowski won the elections, and now there will be no excuse not to deliver on promises.

Is he popular at home?
Tusk is one of the most popular politicians to lead Poland since independence; he understands what the electorate wants.

Best leadership skills?
Tusk has a wealth of experience at all levels of Polish politics and he’s an excellent communicator.

And his worst?
Tusk’s populism can sometimes mean that necessary policies are shelved because of worries over public reaction, as happened recently with healthcare reform.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
Taking office after the right-wing Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who didn’t always make a good impression on the international stage, Tusk’s measured liberalism has won him many fans. The only blot was a lack of English, which he has worked hard to rectify – he’s now conversant.

5 B

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey

How is the economy?
Very good. GDP growth in 2010 is projected at 6.8 per cent. But unemployment (13.7 per cent) is high. Erdogan deserves praise for his far-sighted and aggressive push for new markets among neighbours.

Other challenges?
Erdogan needs to steer Turkey toward becoming a regional superpower without stepping on the toes of old friends. Turkey’s western allies need reassuring that Turkey is still on their side.

Best leadership skills?
Has a reputation for competence. His anger at western hypocrisy wins him credibility at home.

And his worst?
Governing style tends toward authoritarianism. Quick to anger and sometimes unwilling to step back. His religious appeals make secular Turks nervous.

Is he popular at home?
Yes. Conservative Turks see him as a hero. Liberals respect his EU-inspired reforms that have done more to democratise the country than most of his predecessors. But secularists suspect he is trying to Islamicise the country by stealth.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
Yes and no. He is personally changing Turkey’s brand from benchwarmer to a player in global affairs. But it remains to be seen if can he make this stick.

6 B

Julia Gillard

Australia

How is the economy?
Gillard only became prime minister on 24 June, following the resignation of her Labor Party colleague Kevin Rudd, so it’s too early to say how well she is handling her country’s finances. However, Australia’s economy is in good shape. The country largely evaded recent global market meltdowns, and indeed is forecasting a budget surplus.

Other challenges?
Keeping her job. Gillard has called an election to be held on 21 August.

Best leadership skills?
Confidence in herself: Australian politics isn’t the easiest of arenas in which to be female, red-haired, Welsh, unmarried, childless and an atheist.

And her worst?
That accent! The suburban nasal drone isn’t easy to endure. Her rhetoric tends towards the prosaic.

Is she popular at home?
Yes, though her novelty value may be a factor. A Nielsen poll in July gave her an approval rating of 54 per cent, and had her as preferred prime minister by 56 per cent.

Is she good for the nation’s international brand?
At this early stage, probably. Though most people realise Crocodile Dundee wasn’t a documentary, Australia still has a certain reputation for boorish machismo. Demonstrating ease with a female leader will ameliorate that considerably.

7 B-

Jacob Zuma

South Africa

How is the economy?
Zuma has deviated little from Thabo Mbeki’s neo-liberal path. While this has pleased foreign investors and mainstream economists, trades unionists argue it hasn’t done much for the poor majority. Unemployment remains dangerously high – anywhere between 30 and 40 per cent.

Other challenges?
After a successful World Cup Zuma needs to employ the same level of commitment and resources on South Africa’s chronic poverty problems. Education, healthcare and housing are all in need of major investment.

Best leadership skills?
A friendliness and openness that is in stark contrast to Mbeki. Has the ability to put everyone he meets at ease.

And his worst?
His refusal to crack down on corruption within the ruling ANC has made him appear weak.

Is he popular at home?
Zuma is more popular than Mbeki was and he has enjoyed a boost in his ratings after the World Cup, but his inability to tackle corruption and improve public services has adversely affected his support.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
He used the World Cup well, never appearing to grab the spotlight, but his international image remains shaped by his personal life. Stories abound in the press about his marriages and numerous children.

8 B-

Dmitry Medvedev

Russia

How is the economy?
Russia’s economy still relies too heavily on natural resources. Medvedev is desperate to change this; one of his key projects is setting up a Russian version of Silicon Valley. It’s doubtful, however, that innovation can be ordered from the top in a controlled economy. He also has many noble words about fighting corruption but few results are visible so far.

Other challenges?
Presidential elections are due in 2012. Will Medvedev step aside and allow Vladimir Putin to return? Will the current system where Medvedev is president but Putin as PM wields most of the power continue? Or will Medvedev become his own man? The third possibility is the least likely but most intriguing.

Best leadership skills?
Medvedev talks about difficult issues and is relatively open to criticism.

And his worst?
He lacks charisma and is a dry speaker. He would never have made president in a country with western-style elections.

Is he popular at home?
Medvedev is featured every day on Russian news broadcasts and subjected to little public criticism. His approval ratings have slid of late but are still well above 50 per cent.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
Yes. Medvedev’s calm, measured and conciliatory tone come as a relief for western leaders and diplomats.

9 C+

Rodriguez Zapatero

Spain

How is the economy?
Since 2008, more than two million people in Spain have lost their jobs. It now has the highest unemployment of the large EU countries and the slowest growing economy. It doesn’t help that its credit rating went down earlier this year amid jitters over the Eurozone’s future.

Other challenges?
Zapatero hopes to whip Spain into line with an austerity budget this autumn that has earned him the nickname “butcher of the working classes”.

Best leadership skills?
Zapatero’s government has forced Spain to confront its past – setting up a commission to look into atrocities of the Spanish civil war and the Franco era that previous governments had pushed under the carpet.

And his worst?
Dithering when he needed to take dramatic action to rescue the Spanish economy.

Is he popular at home?
Not now. Zapatero’s party, which has been in office since 2004, is around 10 per cent behind the opposition in most polls. This autumn he may face pressure to call early elections – the next vote is in 2012.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
In part thanks to Zapatero, Spain now has a reputation as a young, dynamic country. His government has stood up for minorities and confronted the Catholic church, supporting gay marriage and abortion.

10 C

Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir

Iceland

How is the economy?
It’s a fire sale: Iceland is pimping out its natural resources. Geothermal energy company HS Orka was just sold to Canada’s Magma energy and it has raised the fishing quotas.

Other challenges?
It’s $5bn in debt to UK and Dutch depositers. EU application is stalled until Iceland stops whaling and reaches a solution on repaying debts.

Best leadership skills?
Honesty is Sigurdardóttir’s best policy but it hasn’t pulled the country out of the crisis.

And her worst?
Her discomfort speaking English may be the reason she shies away from meetings with foreign leaders and the press.

Is she popular at home?
Her 65.5 per cent approval ratings in February 2009 dropped to 27.4 per cent in March 2010. She has made unpopular decisions such as raising taxes, cutting spending and laying people off and is seen as not standing up to the Brits and Dutch. One of her key issues is joining the EU but 60 per cent of the population are against it.

Is she good for the nation’s international brand?
The world loves that Sigurdardóttir is a lesbian, passed marriage equality laws and immediately got married. And with no volcanic ash for months over summer, well she is practically a hero.

11 C

Naoto Kan

Japan

How is the economy?
Japan has an epic public debt problem. In order to avoid huge cuts in public spending, Kan wants to raise the consumption tax from 5 per cent to 10 per cent. But this policy cost him public support in July’s elections, when he lost control of the Upper House of the Diet.

Other challenges?
He must push through a controversial deal to relocate a huge US Marines airbase within the southern island of Okinawa. Greens and local people believe that the earmarked locations will ruin a pristine environment. Many Okinawans want it off the island altogether. The US is impatient to push ahead.

Best leadership skills?
A background in community politics, a reputation as a champion of the weak and disenfranchised, and no hint of association with the money politics, which has tainted others in the Democratic Party of Japan.

And his worst?
A short-temper and a certain froideur, bordering on arrogance. His nickname is Ira Kan or Irritable Kan.

Is he popular at home?
After taking over from the disastrous Yukio Hatoyama, his approval rating soared, only to slump the following month in the run up to July’s election.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
Depends on how long he can survive – he is the sixth prime minister in four years.

12 C

Stephen Harper

Canada

How is the economy?
It has withstood the global crisis better than any other rich country, though much of the credit belongs to policies implemented by his predecessor.

Other challenges?
After two years of heavy stimulus spending, Harper has promised to have the books balanced again by 2016, but critics worry his budget cuts will endanger a still fragile recovery.

Best leadership skills?
Harper has deftly exploited the weaknesses of a divided opposition, enabling his minority government to govern as though in the majority. He’s also brought clear, consistent messaging to a Conservative Party that routinely suffered from foot-in-mouth disease.

And his worst?
Harper’s strength is also his Achilles heel — an autocratic, ruthlessly partisan style has made him a polarising figure.

Is he popular at home?
More loathed than loved but given Canada’s fractured political landscape his approval ratings are high enough. He’ll be hard to unseat.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
Canada’s reputation suffered at the Copenhagen climate change conference, where many accused the government of obstructing a comprehensive agreement. And despite investing CAD$1bn (€747m) in hosting a combined G8-G20 summit in June the meeting was judged a non-event.

13 C

Angela Merkel

Germany

How is the economy?
After a successful first term in a coalition with Social Democrats, Merkel now governs with what her party thought to be a dream-partner: the liberal FDP. But their administration has been a disaster. When it became clear that the country needed to save more than €80bn by 2014 they presented an austerity programme that seems to target those on lower incomes.

Other challenges?
The health sector has to be reformed. Defence minister von Guttenberg wants to do away with conscription because there is not enough money left to train recruits. And many in Merkel’s party want to keep nuclear power stations running for a longer period than agreed.

Best leadership skills?
Good at moderating.

And her worst?
Given the state of the economy harsh decisions have to be made but critics claim she is not decisive enough.

Is she popular at home?
She was very popular but her poll ratings have dropped.

Is she good for the nation’s international brand?
The character traits harming Merkel’s reputation at home may help internationally. She is perceived as thoughtful, assessing and ready to compromise. She helps position Germany not as an economic giant that others have to fear but as a soft power looking for multilateral solutions.

14 C-

Nicolas Sarkozy

France

How is the economy?
Under Sarkozy, Europe’s second-largest economy has weathered recent economic storms better than many of its neighbours. Among other things his government was quick to introduce a car scrappage scheme that has pretty much saved the French car industry. Unemployment is around 10 per cent though, and expected to get worse before it gets better.

Other challenges?
La rentreé is not just when kids go back to school, it’s the time when disgruntled workers protest. This autumn, the big battle is likely to be over the idea that the French must work for a few more years (until they are 62, rather than 60) before they can have their pension.

Best leadership skills?
His forceful character. And he is viewed as being tough on crime.

And his worst?
He’s seen as moody, irascible and a control freak, particularly when it comes to the media.

Is he popular at home?
This summer’s scandal over illicit party funding allegedly received from France’s richest woman, the head of the l’Oréal dynasty, has seriously damaged his reputation. In July, his popularity hit 26 per cent, the lowest since he took office in 2007.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
French politics have made it onto more newspaper front pages under Sarkozy than Jacques Chirac. But that’s got a lot to do with Carla Bruni.

15 D

Silvio Berlusconi

Italy

How is the economy?
Berlusconi claims Italy has fared well during the downturn but GDP shrank 5 per cent in 2009. While the country’s citizens were reluctant to rack up household debt, public debt ballooned to 115 per cent of GDP. His government unveiled €25bn in austerity cuts, though little in the legislation will boost productivity or promote greater competition.

Other challenges?
Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the lower house of parliament and co-founder of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party, has publicly criticised some of his policies, raising speculation he might go for the leadership.

Best leadership skills?
The billionaire media mogul has won three elections, in part thanks to his populist touch – owning TV stations and newspapers also helps.

And his worst?
Il Cavaliere’s off-colour jokes – complimenting Obama on his “tanned skin” – have won him few converts.

Is he popular at home?
A sex scandal, his ongoing legal woes and coalition bickering have led to 39 per cent approval ratings, the lowest since his 2008 re-election.

Is he good for the nation’s international brand?
Conflict of interest between his media empire and his job and his efforts to pass laws to shield himself from prosecution in corruption cases has done little to improve Italy’s standing.

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