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from Breakingviews:

Who packs the biggest power to surprise in 2014?

By Breakingviews columnists

The opinions expressed are the authors' own.

Difficult jobs abound in the global economy, finance and business in the coming year. But so do incredibly low expectations. That means getting it right could mint legacies, and surprise investors in a good way.

Think of politicians like Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, who is about to host the world’s biggest sporting event of the year, the soccer World Cup; or John Boehner, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, an institution with one of the worst public approval ratings in history. Equally, there are a few chief executives who could defy the current consensus, such as the bosses at Deutsche Bank, Barclays or Microsoft. Herewith, Breakingviews columnists compile a list of those who might surprise us.

Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil

Brazil has had six years to prepare for World Cup hosting duties, but what was supposed to be an opportunity to showcase the country’s economic ascendance may now have global eyes peering in at just the wrong time. State meddling is undermining flagship energy giant Petrobras; Brazil’s one-time richest man Eike Batista has become a poster-boy for excess; and the country is battling inflation using a swift progression of interest rate hikes. With expectations on the descent, there’s an opportunity for President Dilma Rousseff to exceed them. If she can pull off a soccer extravaganza without any major disruptions and head off fiscal trouble, Rousseff could secure re-election in 2014 and stick around to host the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Microsoft’s new chief executive

Securing a leader to replace Steve Ballmer at the helm of the software-to-games console conglomerate proved tricky. And for good reasons: Microsoft missed the shift to mobile computing, and the PC market, its mainstay, is melting down. Bill Gates remains chairman and spiritual patriarch of the firm, and Ballmer will soon be the biggest shareholder. Yet there’s a path to recovery for the newcomer – reverse the old guard’s capital-wasting strategy of chasing markets outside enterprise software. Though Ballmer and Gates remain stifling presences on the board, there’s a big opportunity for the new chief executive to create a more focused, secure and valuable Microsoft.

from India Insight:

Narendra Modi follows his roadmap to Delhi

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The Narendra Modi charm offensive showed up in full force in India's capital on Wednesday. Modi, the main opposition party's likely prime ministerial candidate gave a speech on progress and development at one of Delhi's premier colleges, the youthful audience greeted the 62-year-old politician with gusto, news outlets called his speech a "roadmap for India," protesters showed up en masse and Twitter went bananas.

If not a direct declaration of grand political ambition, the nearly one-hour speech at the Shri Ram College of Commerce sounded like a pitch for a national role: here was the chief minister of Gujarat talking about development to more than a thousand students in New Delhi, staying away from the usual and divisive political overtones, repeatedly referring to the youth of the country (future voters), and outlining his vision for India.

from India Insight:

Why Rahul Gandhi stepped into the spotlight

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The Congress has for a long time acknowledged Rahul Gandhi as heir apparent and several party members had openly said that he is their leader. Which means his appointment on Saturday as the party’s vice president -- a post just below that of Congress chief and Rahul’s mother Sonia -- was in many ways just a matter of finding him a suitable title.

So why should it matter?

One reason for Gandhi’s long-awaited promotion was to energise the party for a round of state elections in the run-up to the national elections in 2014. The Congress remains a party which derives its charisma from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and party workers openly swoon over the family. News of Gandhi’s appointment was greeted with fireworks and proclamations by party leaders of brighter days ahead.

from India Insight:

Rahul Gandhi takes first step in race to be India’s next PM

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It's the news some Congress leaders have waited for with bated breath. On Saturday, spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi announced the party’s decision to make Rahul Gandhi its vice-president.

Pressure had been mounting on the “young emperor” from within the troubled party to take charge. For years, Gandhi had shown no inclination to do so. But with his formal promotion to the party’s number two position next to mother Sonia, the 42-year-old is ready to claim the throne of the world's largest democracy in the 2014 elections.

from India Insight:

The race for India’s next prime minister

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With the Congress-led coalition government more than halfway through its five-year term, the political temperature is heating up in the world's largest democracy. The question on everyone's minds is -- who's going to be the next prime minister?

A recent Nielsen survey had showed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was the top choice for the post, ahead of Congress party scion Rahul Gandhi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

From Afghanistan, the countdown to 2014

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The dusty streets of Kabul are choked with traffic, restaurants selling American fast food are bustling and there is a crowd of students and parents outside a girls' school in the centre of town trying to slip through the shuttered gates at the start of the school year.

Returning to Kabul for the first time since December, there was no sense that the mood on the ground had changed significantly. But I couldn't help wondering how all this might change once foreign troops who have propped up the Afghan state for more than a decade leave in 2014. There is talk of a return to chaos and civil war, although admittedly you hear more of those grim warnings abroad and in the foreign circles of  Kabul than from the people themselves who will be in the middle of it.

from MacroScope:

Fed makes low rates vow, but traders afraid of commitment

Anyone worried that the U.S. Federal Reserve tied its policy hands with its announcement last month that  it is likely to keep short-term interest rates exceptionally low through late 2014 should take heart in the market reaction to Friday’s jobs report, which blew expectations out of the water.

Bond and interest-rate futures plunged after the report, which showed employers added 243,000 jobs in December, far more than the 150,000 economists had expected. Unemployment dropped to 8.3 percent in another encouraging sign. Fed fund futures contracts began pricing in a good chance of a rate hike by the second quarter of 2014. Before the report, bets were on a first rate hike at some point in the third quarter.

from Afghan Journal:

Afghanistan : The gnawing fear of transition

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U.S. Afghanistan ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry (L) meets tyhe local mullah in Kandahar's Khakrez district on Monday. Eikenberry, a former general, is trying to sooth uncertainty in the country about the transition to Afghan security to be completed from 2014 and ahead of his own departure. (PICTURE: Rob Taylor (Reuters))

There is perhaps no word so misunderstood in Afghanistan right now as transition, or one causing as much unease among ordinary Afghans still grappling for a sense of their future.

U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, expected to soon leave the country, is on an urgent reassurance mission, leaping this week onto an open special forces buggy without a flak jacket or heavy escort to tour a former insurgent stronghold in Kandahar's Khakrez district, hoping to prove safety is on the uptick. "Just about one year and a half ago it would have been difficult for me to be here. The security would not have allowed me to," the energetic former general told village elders clustered in sunshine on a lawn walled by roses.
Eikenberry has visited probably every province of Afghanistan with his long immersion in the country, including a stint commanding U.S. forces.

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