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The World’s Most Powerful People 2013

Caroline Howard, Forbes Staff
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends the Leaders Retreat during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, October 7, 2013. REUTERS/Mast Irham/Pool (INDONESIA - Tags: POLITICS)

Who’s more powerful: the omnipotent head of a corroding but still feisty superpower or the handcuffed head of the most dominant country in the world? This year, our votes for the World’s Most Powerful People — an annual look at the heads of state, financiers, philanthropists and entrepreneurs who truly rule the world — went with the former.

President Vladimir Putin has solidified his control over Russia (“dictator” is no longer an outlandish word to ponder) while U.S. President Barack Obama’s lame duck period has seemingly set in earlier than usual for a two-term president — latest example: the government shutdown mess. Anyone watching this year’s chess match over Syria has a clear idea of the shifting individual power dynamic.

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The Most Powerul People in the World list represents the collective wisdom of top FORBES editors, who consider hundreds of nominees before ranking the planet’s top 72 power-brokers – one for every 100 million people on Earth — based on their scope of influence and their financial resources relative to their peers.

The World’s 10 Most Powerful People

1. Vladimir Putin

Who’s more powerful: the omnipotent head of a corroding but still feisty power or the handcuffed head of the most dominant country in the world? This year’s snapshot of power puts the Russian President on top. Putin has solidified his control over Russia (“dictator” is not longer an outlandish word to ponder) and the global stage. Anyone watching the chess match over Syria has a clear idea of the shift in the power towards Putin. The ex-KGB strongman--who controls a nuclear-tipped army, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves—is allowed to serve two more terms, which could keep him office until 2024.

2. Barack Obama

His signature legislation, Obamacare, is under fire, U.S. allies are outraged over NSA surveillance overseas and the government shutdown for 16 days in October begs the question: who's in control here? It appears that President Obama's lame duck period has set in earlier than usual for a two-term president, causing him to drop one notch from the No. 1 spot. To be sure, though, the leader of the free world remains in charge of the the most powerful nation in the world, with the largest, most innovative economy and the deadliest military. 

3. Xi Jinping

Recently promoted in March, the 60-year-old is the paramount political and military leader of China. Xi exercises near dictatorial control over 1.3 billion people (close to 20% of the world's population). China has the largest central bank, with $3.5 trillion in assets -- and owns some $1.3 trillion in U.S. securities, making it the largest shareholder of U.S. debt. Along with India, the country is predicted to overtake the U.S. in aggregate GDP in coming decades; it is currently $8.2 trillion. There are 122 billionaires in the country, up from zero one decade ago. In addition to his title of general secretary of the Communist Party in China, Xi is also president of the People's Republic of China and the chairman of the Central Military Commission.

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4. Pope Francis

The March election of Pope Francis has injected new energy into the world’s largest religion with 1.2 billion followers around the world. The first Jesuit and Latin American Vicar of Christ preaches compassion for the poor and a greater role for women while signaled the church to quiet its focus on “only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptives." He has embraced social media, regularly using Twitter to dispense religious advice to his 10 million followers and is responsible for the world's first papal "selfie." Born in Buenos Aires as one of five children to an Italian immigrant railway worker, Pope Francis (né Jorge Mario Bergoglio) is an avid FIFA fan and cheers the San Lorenzo de Almagro club.

5. Angela Merkel

The world's most powerful woman is the backbone of the 27-member European Union and carries the fate of the euro on her shoulders. Merkel's hard-line austerity prescription for easing the European debt crisis has been challenged by both hard-hit southern countries and the more affluent north, most particularly French President Francois Hollande. Merkel is fresh off a commanding reelection victory, and has served as ¬chancellor since 2005; the first woman in the position.Merkel has earned the top spot on the FORBES list of Most Powerful Women In The World for eight of the past 10 years.

6. Bill Gates

Gates is the wealthiest man in the U.S., despite his past gifts of more than $28 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He bolstered his foundation's efforts to eradicate polio in April, securing $335 million in pledges to the cause from six billionaire comrades, including $100 million each from Mexico's Carlos Slim and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Shares of Microsoft jumped in late August on news that Steve Ballmer will step down as CEO; Gates will remain chairman of the software company he cofounded with Paul Allen in 1975. He and fellow Most Powerful Warren Buffett have thus far convinced over 100 billionaires to sign on to the Giving Pledge, a promise to donate at least half one's net worth to charity.

7. Ben Bernanke

Big Ben is stepping down as of January 31, 2014, and Janet Yellen has been nominated to lead the Fed next year. Bernanke has served as chairman during some of the biggest financial challenges since the Depression. The former Princeton professor’s decisive actions and policies helped to avert a global economic meltdown during late 2000s fiscal crisis, and jump-started a still-moderate U.S. recovery. The American economy's "adult in the room" has said that there is only so much the Fed can do; politicians are the ones with the power to keep us from going over a fiscal cliff.

[More from Forbes: Full List: The World’s Most Powerful People 2013]

8. Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud

Saudi Arabia's aging monarch holds the keys to two of Islam's holiest mosques and the world's second largest crude oil deposit of 265 billion barrels, amounting to 20% of the world's reserves. The Kingdom boasts a $727 billion GDP, putting it in the top 20 richest countries worldwide. But with 12% of nationals without a job, including 25% of its under 25s, the king has pushed $130 billion at unemployment funds and housing projects in recent years.

9. Mario Draghi

As chief banker of the world's largest ¬currency area--the euro zone's collective GDP is now nearly $17 trillion--Draghi faces the Herculean task of trying to maintain financial unity across 17 countries. But if anyone can wrangle the interests of nations as diverse as Germany and Greece, it might be the man who navigated the minefield of Italian politics so deftly that he earned himself a nickname: "Super Mario."

10. Michael Duke

Duke heads the world's No. 1 retailer ($470 billion in 2012) and biggest private employer (2.2 million employees). Wal-Mart can make or break a company simply by deciding to stock its product. Last year Sweden's $785 billion in assets sovereign wealth fund (none bigger) dropped its Wal-Mart stock – reportedly worth about $140 billion -- on advice from its Ethical Council that cited a "serious and systematic abuse of workers' rights."

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