Five leaders who were conspicuously absent when they were needed the most.
- By Brian FungBrian Fung is an editorial researcher at FP.
ASIF ALI ZARDARI
Who: President of Pakistan
The crisis: massive flooding, political violence
Where he was instead: Europe
The backlash: For a world leader, being seen directing relief efforts (or at least showing sympathy for the victims) is usually a good idea when a natural disaster strikes. But for Pakistan’s Zardari, forging ahead with a tour of Europe seemed more important — even after U.S. officials privately urged him to discontinue the lavish trip, which allegedly included hotel stays that cost more than $11,000 a night. Zardari officials fired back, saying the president chose the “cheapest five-star hotel in London” — the Churchill Hyatt Regency — and even chose not to sleep in the royal suite.
The president’s trip wasn’t all fun and games, though — at a public speech during one of Zardari’s final stops in Britain, a 60-year-old British-Pakistani protester hurled his shoes at the president in light of his decision not to return home. “This was the only means of protest available in front of me at that time,” the demonstrator said after he was released by police. Zardari’s absence continued on Aug. 18 with a visit to the Black Sea resort at Sochi, Russia, where he met his Russian, Afghan, and Tajik counterparts for a security summit. Perhaps wisely, Zardari decided not to stay for lunch and left quickly after the meeting.
Who: Mayor of Moscow
The crisis: Russian wildfires
Where he was instead: Receiving physical therapy in the Austrian Alps
The backlash: After wildfires started sweeping across Russia in late July, touching off a crisis that would cost the country some $15 billion and a quarter of its grain crops, Moscow’s leading official announced he was canceling parts of the city’s traditional birthday bash. But disappointed Muscovites should probably be thankful Luzhkov did anything at all to confront the emergency; if it wasn’t for a chorus of calls for the mayor’s resignation, Luzhkov might never have put his treatment for “a serious sports injury” on hold in the first place.
Six days into a rehab stint that began on Aug. 2, Luzhkov reluctantly flew back to Moscow to face the music. Then, after a mere 10 days back at work, Luzhkov returned to his holiday on Aug. 18. The mayor’s administration-by-parachute stunned locals still recovering from the record-setting heatwave. At the height of the climatic anomaly, more than 700 city residents were dying every day as a result of smog and high temperatures.Despite the public criticism, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised Luzhkov for interrupting his vacation.
Who: Hip-hop artist, Haitian presidential candidate
The crisis: Haiti Reconstruction
Where he was instead: In hiding
The backlash: Jean went to ground this week after reportedly receiving death threats. Never mind that his candidacy hasn’t even been approved yet; Jean doesn’t meet the residency requirements put forth by Haitian electoral law, and the country’s electoral commission is currently weighing the legality of his candidacy.
The musician’s latest PR fiasco follows a string of recent reports by website The Smoking Gun alleging that Jean misused money from his humanitarian relief fund to pay for — among other things — a parade float and sirloin steaks for a domesticated lion. Though experts say Jean isn’t guilty of any crimes, the charges of impropriety aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon. Can this man really lead a disaster-stricken country with more than a million homeless and an unemployment rate exceeding 70 percent? To show it, the rapper-cum-politico will need to work hard to burnish his public image and improve his leadership skills.
Who: Former CEO of BP
The crisis: Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
Where he was instead: On a yacht off the Isle of Wight
The backlash: After famously wishing that the gulf oil leak be quickly contained so that he could have his life back, the gaffe-prone Hayward sought to reclaim that life even as oil continued to gush from the Deepwater Horizon platform. In June, BP’s CEO marked the two-month anniversary of the rig’s explosion by attending a yacht race in Britain. Though it’s unclear whether Hayward was actually sailing his boat, the Bob, or merely watching, onlookers in Louisiana were outraged that the executive was spending his weekend rubbing elbows with billionaires — at the unfortunately titled “J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race.”
Who: General secretary of Unite, Britain’s largest labor union
The crisis: British Airways strikes
Where he was instead: On a Mediterranean island villa
The backlash: In the midst of a five-day cabin crew strike that grounded thousands of British Airways flights in June — the third such walkout in a month — the head of Britain’s largest labor union evidently thought it would be a good time to fly to a private Cypriot villa with his wife. In his wake, Woodley left tens of thousands of stranded passengers to fend for themselves, as well as an unfinished series of wage negotiations with the airline’s brass. Woodley’s colleague Derek Simpson — who previously angered BA by airing labor negotiation details on Twitter — had to fill in. A spokesman said Woodley’s Cyprus trip had been “planned a long time ago,” but criticism of the union leader’s vacation only grew when it was revealed that he had taken a rival airline to his destination.
After 18 months of negotiations, British Airways and its picketing cabin crew still have yet to strike a deal. Sixty-seven percent of voting crewmembers rejected a management proposal in July that would have ended the stalemate. And as the dispute drags on, Woodley and Simpson themselves are reportedly locked in a succession battle.