Elections destined to bring about a new global order
LAST year, the world witnessed an unusual number of high-profile elections. This year everything from the European debt crisis to Iran's nuclear program and the stability of Africa will be influenced by elections. Here's a look at eight of the most important.
Kenya (March 4)
Ethnic tensions are as high as, if not higher than, they were in 2007, when elections ended in brutal violence and two of the presidential candidates were indicted by the International Criminal Court for their role in those events. The policies of the leading candidates are virtually identical, but peaceful and fair balloting cannot be more important for Kenya's political and economic future.
Egypt (within two months)
The second parliamentary election in little more than a year will pit the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies against more secular and leftist parties. The opposition has proved remarkably inept at reading public sentiment and may easily find itself trounced by the Islamists again.
Iran (June 14)
With only six months left in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's lame-duck presidency, the race to succeed him is heating up. The election will likely feature a bland group of pragmatic and hardline conservatives, all likely to advance Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's push to consolidate power.
Israel (January 22)
Benjamin Netanyahu is all but guaranteed re-election as prime minister, but the emergence of Naftali Bennett as a serious force on the right may influence the governing coalition. Mr Netanyahu is under pressure to include his former protege in government, a move that will represent a significant blow to the two-state solution.
Italy (February 24-25)
Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has thrown his hat in the ring, but his party is polling an abysmal 13 to 18 per cent. The outgoing prime minister, Mario Monti, cannot officially run, but can serve as prime minister if asked to do so by the winning coalition. Polls suggest he has little chance of defeating Pier Luigi Bersani of the centre-left.
Pakistan (expected in April)
This would be the first time the country's civilian government has completed its five-year term and transferred power democratically. The race between the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League is neck and neck.
Germany (between September 1 and October 27)
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union look poised to continue their rule, but will need to dump their coalition partner, the Free Democrats, if it falls below the 5 per cent threshold. In that case the most likely outcome is a grand coalition between the CDU and the centre-left Social Democrats.
The parliamentary vote may settle the political future of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as she needs a two-thirds majority in Parliament to amend the constitution so that she can run again in 2015. The country remains sharply divided over Ms Kirchner, who has presided over runaway inflation even as the economy slows.