In January, billionaire Sebastian Piñera won Chile's presidential election, defeating incumbent Eduardo Frei in a runoff vote. When he takes office in March, the mogul will serve as the South American nation's first right-leaning leader since the bloody Pinochet regime lost power in 1990.
Piñera, who earned a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, will govern a country with 14 million people and a gross domestic product of more than $245 billion. As president he's pledged to move Chile toward a more market-based system and to create 1 million new jobs.
The combination of his massive fortune and his soon to be wielded political clout ranks Piñera 15th on our annual list of the most powerful billionaires in the world. Every billion-dollar fortune comes with its own share of power and influence. But few plutocrats have the mix of money, industrial might and political prowess to earn a spot among the world's most powerful billionaires.
Piñera's win is already creating wealth — mostly for himself. Shares of his largest holding company, LAN Airlines, have doubled since the election.
To stave off critics worried about a billionaire running the country, Piñera, who had a net worth of $1 billion when we published our latest list of the World's Billionaires in March 2009, has pledged to sell his stake in his LAN Airlines before he takes office. He's also placed more than $400 million worth of investments under the control of a blind trust.
Many wealthy candidates have used blind trusts to quell conflict of interest concerns, including the world's most powerful billionaire, Michael Bloomberg. As Mayor of New York City, Bloomberg lords over the media, finance and fashion capital of the U.S. — and arguably the world. Mayor Mike also owns 88 percent of news and data giant Bloomberg LP. Forbes estimates his fortune at $17.5 billion.
After appealing to the city council to overturn term limits, Bloomberg narrowly beat opponent Bill Thompson this fall to win four more years as New York's mayor. Cost of the victory: $100 million.
The Harvard Business School graduate has kept New York City (population: 8.4 million) afloat amid a staggering financial crisis and a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 10.6 percent. He took control of the city's schools, drove initiatives to increase energy efficiency and helped make New York America's safest big city.
Meanwhile, his controversial ban on indoor smoking has inspired similar laws in cities across the world.
Two other billionaires currently run countries. Media and banking titan Silvio Berlusconi is prime minister of Italy and ranks second on our list. Billionaire industrial heir, Saad Hariri, who was appointed prime minister of Lebanon Iast June, ranks fifth.
Rounding out the top five: Mexican telecom titan Carlos Slim and Russian oil magnate Vagit Alekperov.
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Slim, the world's third richest person, runs telecom giant America Movil. Worth $35 billion in March 2009, his personal fortune is equivalent to 2 percent of Mexico's GDP. He's currently consolidating his holdings — America Movil is planning to buy three other companies he also controls to expand the telecom juggernaut.
Alekperov, who heads Lukoil — the world's second-largest independent oil company with a market value of $46 billion — holds sway over the planet's energy markets.
Through his industrial might, India's richest person, Mukesh Ambani, ranks eighth. Ambani controls oil and gas conglomerate Reliance Industries. With a market value of more than $73 billion, the firm is India's biggest independent company.
His compatriot, Lakshmi Mittal — India's second wealthiest with a net worth of $30 billion — heads ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel maker. The steel giant operates in 60 countries and has market value of $65 billion. Mittal ranks 13th.
Apple's Steve Jobs ranks as the 18th most powerful billionaire in the world. Jobs, who has revolutionized animation (Pixar), music (iPod), and smart phones (iPhone), recently unveiled his heavily hyped Apple iPad. The tablet computer, which hopes to revolutionize publishing, has so far received mixed reviews from the media.
Billionaires falling from the ranks this year include Oprah Winfrey, Roman Abramovich and Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud.
© 2012 Forbes.com