Southeast Asia’s leaders in global spotlight

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been hosting a gathering of world leaders this week as the region faces a raft of democratic, human rights and good governance challenges.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been hosting a gathering of world leaders this week as the region faces a raft of democratic, human rights and good governance challenges.

Here are the leaders of ASEAN nations and issues surrounding their rule:


Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 70, is one of the world’s richest men thanks to his 49-year absolute rule over tiny oil-rich Brunei. His luxurious lifestyle is legendary yet in 2014 he introduced a strict sharia criminal code that includes severing of limbs and death by stoning for various crimes. No such punishments are known to have been invoked yet.


A former Khmer Rouge soldier who defected from the brutal regime, Hun Sen became prime minister of Cambodia in 1985 and has held onto the post ever since, forging close links with China. The wily politician, 64, maintains he has brought stability to a once-ravaged nation. But he is also regarded as an authoritarian figure who has manipulated the nation’s fragile democracy to cement his rule, while allowing corruption and rights abuses to flourish.


Joko Widodo, 55, is Indonesia’s first president from outside the political and military elites. The 2014 election victory of the former furniture trader fuelled hopes of a new era in the world’s third-biggest democracy. But he has struggled to push through reforms in a country still dominated by figures from the era of dictator Suharto.


Thongloun Sisoulith, for years Laos’ foreign minister, rose to the premiership in 2016, a year of major diplomatic activity and rare international scrutiny for the cloistered communist nation. The landlocked nation has been one of Asia’s fastest growing economies of the last decade. But it remains notorious for rights abuses, endemic corruption and the state’s vice-like grip on the media.


Najib Razak, 63, has been leader since 2009 of Malaysia’s nearly six-decades-old ruling coalition, which has overseen rapid economic growth but has long been accused of repressing dissent and favoring the Muslim majority.

The criticisms are at fever pitch under Najib, whose administration has responded to electoral setbacks by moving to curb basic civil liberties and harassing critics. Najib is also accused of involvement in the theft of billions of dollars from a state-owned fund, which he denies.


Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner and Nobel laureate, in April took the helm of Myanmar’s first civilian government in half a century after championing a lengthy struggle against junta rule. The 71-year-old faces the tough task of bringing prosperity and peace to a poor country ravaged by its military oppressors.


Rodrigo Duterte, 71, won May elections in a landslide for a six-year term as president of one Asia’s most chaotic democracies. Under fierce scrutiny for rights abuses in a war on drug crime that has claimed almost 3,000 lives, and his plans to give ex-dictator Ferdinand Marcos a hero’s burial.


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 64, son of Singapore’s late founding father Lee Kuan Yew, has been at the helm of the affluent nation since 2004. The People’s Action Party that he leads won a fresh five-year mandate in last year’s general elections, extending the party’s uninterrupted rule spanning nearly six decades. But while much admired for its economic success, Singapore’s government has been criticised by human rights groups for clamping down on political freedoms.


Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a former army chief who seized power in a 2014 coup after a decade of political turmoil, heads the most autocratic Thai government in a generation. The 62-year-old career soldier is an ultra-royalist ally of Bangkok’s conservative elite, which has tried to tamp down a populist movement in the provinces loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.


Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, elected in April by the rubber-stamp parliament, is seen as a competent technocrat and a sturdy apparatchik in the conservative communist leadership. The party has little tolerance for internal dissent and routinely jails critics.

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