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Elon Musk to Francois Fillon: 5 people to watch out for in 2017

France’s rightwing presidential candidate, the Islamic State’s external operations branch, the head of America’s National Trade Council, the real-world Tony Stark and the man who runs the Chinese Communist Party’s top body on economic policy - all five are poised to shake up the world this year.

world Updated: Jan 02, 2017 00:25 IST
Pramit Pal Choudhuri
Pramit Pal Choudhuri
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Francois Fillon,Abu Sulayman al-Firansi,Peter Navarro
Tesla CEO Elon Musk plans this year to launch a mass model of his electric car, roll out a revolutionary battery storage device for homes, merge the loss-making SolarCity firm with his own and, just for fun, put a man on Mars. (REUTERS)

Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Theresa May and Xi Jinping may be among your obvious choices for the people to watch this year. Some of you may have included Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders. But here are some names you may not have considered.

Francois Fillon

France seems likely to begin the new year with what was thought impossible: their own Margaret Thatcher-style president. Fillon emerged as the surprise rightwing presidential candidate at the end of 2016. He is now the clear favourite to win the two-round April elections for the Elysee Palace.

But Fillon will be a revolution for France. He plans to slash the state-owned sector, make labour markets and regulatory environment friendlier for business, and, as a devout Catholic, may roll back some of the present socialist government’s gay rights. And, yes, he admires Thatcher and makes no bones about it.

Abu Sulayman al-Firansi

Abu Sulayman is the head of Amn al-Kharji, better known by its shortened name Emni --- the Islamic State’s external operations branch. Originally tasked to catch spies and watch suspicious foreigners within the IS, over the past few years it has metamorphosed into an exporter of terror.

Abu Sulayman is a French citizen and his role in the brutal November 2015 serial terrorist attacks in Paris led to his promotion to Emni’s headship. Some reports say his deputy is a Tunisian. Others say it is a Belgian. But his position is a sign of the importance the IS places in attacking the West, and Europe in particular.

Peter Navarro

Everyone of authority in the Trump administration will be watched closely this year,including President Donald Trump and his Twitter account. However, Navarro may be among the most crucial people in determining the tenor of global politics in 2017.

One, he is in charge of a newly created National Trade Council which Trump aides say will concentrate trade policy under a single body under the White House.

Two, Navarro has a record of vitriolic – and economically questionable – statements against Chinese trade policy. But his book on the subject says it all: its titled Death by China. If Trump intends to make unilateral trade policy his prime weapon against Beijing, then he’s found the gunnery officer to wield it.

Liu He

His official titles are mind-numbingly boring: director, Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs, and vice-chairman, National Development and Reform Committee. But the first job alone means he runs the Chinese Communist Party’s top body on economic policy. One of the ideas attributed to him is the One Belt, One Road project.

Liu, a quiet scholarly type from Tsinghua and Harvard Universities, has been receiving unusual amounts of television coverage in China – a sign that his star is rising. Xi Jinping, China’s supreme leader, it is rumoured may propel Liu into the party standing committee when the party’s plenum meets in the autumn.

This would be unprecedented for a person with a minimal political pedigree. But it mirrors the decline of premier Li Kejiang who shares Liu’s zeal for change but, East Asian sources say, is being seen as too politically incompetent to get the reforms done. Xi needs a new economics talisman as Li fades and Liu looks most likely to take his place.

Elon Musk

The Tony Stark of the real world plans to do the following things in 2017: launch a mass model of his Tesla electric car, rollout a revolutionary battery storage device for homes, merge the loss-making SolarCity firm with his own and, just for fun, put a man on Mars. SolarCity, a company that he had helped set up separately with his cousins to provide solar power to homes and offices on a lease basis, will be difficult to digest financially. But the real test for Musk is to be able to be seen as the cutting edge of the clean energy sector with a Trump administration in power. Tesla was partly built on $ 5 billion worth of US government subsidies. That tap may now close. His fate this year will be seen as a parable about the future of private sector-led green clean tech.

First Published: Jan 01, 2017 20:28 IST