Updated Feb 28, 2018

The world's big succession questions

Merkel, Xi and Putin at the G20. Photo: Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

China’s communist party has moved to eliminate presidential term limits, in a shock move that opens the way for President Xi Jinping to dominate Chinese politics for the next decade or more.

The big picture: When you rule over more than a billion people, the question of if, when, and how you leave power — or don’t — is naturally a big one, but Xi isn’t the only leader whose succession plans carry strong intrigue. Here’s what’s on your mind if you’re

Russia's President Vladimir Putin: The constitution says time’s up when your next term ends in 2024. You could change it, but you’ve always pedantically fixated on the letter of the law (spirit of same, less so…). The last time you ran into term limits you swapped places with a human seat-warmer rather than mess with the constitution.

  • You could designate a successor, but who could you trust to protect your interests without eclipsing your power? In a country where even the speaker of the legislature has said “If there is no Putin, there is no Russia,” this question will hang over every major decision in Russia for the next six years.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman: You’ve groomed your 32-year-old son, Mohamed bin Salman, to succeed you, sidelining older members of the family who thought they were in line for the throne. MBS, as he’s known, has proposed radical social and economic reforms and tenderly jailed much of the elite in a bid to secure loyalty ahead of his coronation.

  • Will the succession open the way to much-needed reforms, or will it provoke destabilizing internal frictions?

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev: You’ve run oil-rich Kazakhstan with a strong hand since even before the Soviet Union collapsed, but you’ll be turning 78 this summer so you’ve got to think about what comes next.

  • You’ve deftly balanced relations with China, Russia, and the United States – will your successor be able to pull off the same trick?

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel: Ok, you aren’t a strongman like the others on this list, but after 13 years dominating German politics, nearly half of your people recently said it’s time to bid you Aufwiedersehen. Luckily, your CDU party overwhelmingly approved your preferred successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, as its new leader just yesterday. But your rare combination of political skill, personal probity, and steely ambition are a tough act to follow.

  • Can “mini-Merkel” fill your shoes, or will your legacy of stability be remembered as a prelude to troubles in Germany? 

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika:  You are the only president Algeria has known since the end of its devastating civil war nearly 20 years ago, and you’ve crushed all serious opposition. But you are almost certainly too ill to run for a fifth term in 2019, leaving your gas-rich country in limbo as energy revenues dwindle while expectations among younger Algerians continue to rise.

  • The lack of clear consensus on succession means the political future of Africa’s fourth largest economy is largely a black box. 

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