With the year coming to an end, and Santa finalizing his list, we run down the leaders most deserving of praise and scorn in 2012.
The Nice List
He's moving in the right direction on democracy.
There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical in 2011 when this longtime member of Myanmar's ruling military junta took over the presidency, but so far he's followed through on his pledges to allow the country to slowly democratize, holding relatively free and a fair parliamentary elections in April that brought longtime regime foe Aung San Suu Kyi into the parliament. The two might make an unlikely pair, and Myanmar is still a long way from true democracy, but this year's success is worth noting.
She's undone the damage caused by her predecessor.
Banda took over the presidency in April after the unexpected
death of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika, who had been best known for lavishing millions
on presidential palaces, private jets, a fleet of Mercedes (while his people
have one of the lowest living standards in the world), and brutally crushing
the political opposition. Banda quickly came
in to clean house and restore her struggling country's
reputation: she leased the jet, fired
officials known for cracking down on the opposition, and persuaded foreign
governments -- including Britain and the United States, who had tired of
Mutharika's antics -- to start sending aid again.
He left, peacefully.
Senegal's president for the past 12 years leaves a decidedly
mixed legacy, praised by some as a bold reformer but chastised for wasting
public money on garish monuments, pursuing a constitutionally
questionable third term in office, and seeming to groom his son as a
successor. But when push came to shove, and polls showed he had been
commandingly defeated by onetime protégé Macy Sall in April's presidential
election, Wade surprised many by quickly calling
Sall to concede -- avoiding yet another political
crisis. Considering Senegal's unruly neighbors -- every one of the four
countries it borders has had a coup in the last five years -- that's sadly
worth some praise.
He went on a real apology tour.
Putting aside his controversial economic plans and views on the Eurocrisis for a moment, Hollande deserves credit for publicly confronting some of the uglier moments in French history. In July, at a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv round-up -- during which over 13,000 Jews were detained by French police and deported by concentration camps, an event that was denied by French governments for decades -- Hollande gave a moving speech calling for citizens to come to terms with this "crime committed in France by France," and praised political rival Jacques Chirac for being the first president to acknowledge French complicity.
In October, Hollande became the first French president to acknowledge the government's responsibility for the 1961 massacre of hundreds of pro-Algerian protesters by Paris police. In a visit to Algeria this month, he followed up by referring to the "profoundly unjust and brutal" nature of French colonial rule. While the remarks stopped short of the direct apology many Algerians were hoping for, Hollande deserves credit for his willingness to discuss the times France has not lived up to its ideals.
He walks the populist walk.
Lots of presidents talk about their humble origins and portray themselves as men (or women) of the people, but Mujica backs it up. The "world's poorest president" donates 90 percent of his salary to charity, has forgone the presidential palace to live in a ramshackle farmhouse outside Montevideo, and gets around in a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. Uruguay's business community may have worried when the former leftist guerilla fighter was elected in 2009, but so far he's been more Lula than Hugo on economics this year, while pursuing some dramatic social reforms -- including measures to loosen restrictions on abortion, allow gay marriage, and legalize small amounts of marijuana.
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