Power couple: Brian Loughnane and Peta Credlin. When it comes to wielding influence in the Liberal Party, Brian Loughnane and Peta Credlin put many well-known members of Tony Abbott’s shadow cabinet to shame. The husband and wife are two of the opposition leader’s most trusted advisers on strategy and policy, and both can take credit for the Libs’ soaring popularity in the polls.

Abbott meets with Credlin and Loughnane – as well as an inner circle of senior MPs — each morning parliament sits to plan the day ahead. Both are also reported to have played a role in Abbott’s decision to switch support from Peter Reith to Alan Stockdale in the battle for the Liberal Party’s presidency.

“Credlin, [press secretary Andrew] Hirst and Loughnane are the three people Abbott listens to most,” a Liberal insider tells The Power Index. Credlin is Abbott’s chief of staff – a role she also played under Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull. Six foot tall, with a long face and a shock of brown hair, she’s an imposing figure with an imposing personality. — Matthew Knott (read the full story here)

Five dictators to watch. 10. Ali Bongo Ondimba. Not to be confused with the British comedy magician of the same name, Ali Bongo took over the family franchise in Gabon in 2009, when his dictator father Omar died after 42 years in the chair. Ali’s main rival for the job was sister Pascaline. After his election (with only 42% of the vote) there were riots and widespread accusations of fraud.

9. Teodoro Obiang. Since he seized power in Equatorial Guinea in a bloody coup 32 years ago, Teodoro Obiang has imprisoned, tortured and killed anyone brave enough to oppose him, and earned his tiny country one of the worst human rights records in the world. He has also enriched himself and his family on a massive scale, while leaving his subjects in abject poverty.

8. Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe has clung to power for more than 30 years and shows no signs of letting go. Harder to kill then a cockroach and way up there on the BAD scale, he has tortured, imprisoned and killed political opponents, trashed a once-rich nation and laid waste to the country.

7. Bashar al-Assad. The Assad family has ruled Syria for 40 years. But Bashar was not cut out to be a dictator. He trained in England as a doctor, had no political ambition, and was only drafted into service in 2000 because his elder brother died in a car accident. Back then, he brought high hopes for change and democracy. But his regime’s brutal repression of uprisings this year has shown him to be almost as bad as his murderous father, Hafez. — Paul Barry (read the full story here)

Conroy and Quigley’s year of NBN progress. Communications minister Stephen Conroy and NBN Co boss Mike Quigley will head into 2012 with a considerable amount of satisfaction, given that 2011 has undoubtedly been a year of progress for the NBN.

The critical $11 billion deal with Telstra was finally secured in October, while NBN legislation was pushed through by the Gillard government after a marathon session in the upper house of the senate. Most importantly, concrete steps were taken to make the network more tangible through the launch of commercial services in October, and the release of the 12 month rollout plan. — Supratim Adhikari (read the full story here)