The Year in 2013

According to the Chinese, 2013 is the Year of the Snake – and it’s an unpredictable year of upheaval, rebuilding but innovation too. And apparently it’s a year when diplomats can really come into their own. So here’s what’s going on this year, but remember to expect the unexpected.

Big ballots

In 2013 we pick 13 elections in regions across the world likely to make headlines, but for the right or wrong reasons?

In the Middle East the Israelis are first out the starting blocks, voting for the Knesset on 22 January with Binjamin Netanyahu seeking his third term in office. With worries over security topping the agenda, polls suggest Israel’s strong man will be returned to lead a right-wing government.

That should set the tone for Israel’s regional arch-rival Iran which holds a presidential poll on 14 June. The incendiary President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has used up his two terms so who does the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have waiting in the wings – and with all the economic woes at home will they be in a more conciliatory mood?

Meanwhile the two countries synonymous with the Arab Spring cast their ballots under new post-revolutionary constitutions – Egypt in the first quarter of the year and Tunisia on 23 June. In both cases Islamist parties are squaring up for a contest against a more organised alliance of liberal secular parties.

Italy gets the ball rolling for Europe with parliamentary elections on 24 February but how will the predicted inconclusive outcome between right, centre and left coalitions affect Italy’s precarious economic situation and the eurozone?

Polls in autumn include Germany where the CDU, despite recent setbacks, looks the strongest political force and Angela Merkel is en route to being Europe’s longest-serving female head of government – but who will her coalition partners be?

In Africa, Kenyans are holding parliamentary and presidential elections on 4 March – the world will watch in hope that electoral reforms will avoid a repeat of the ugly tribalism and violence that marred the previous general election.

Zimbabweans are also promised a presidential ballot this year – but will electoral reforms be in place to ensure free and fair elections? And will the octogenarian Robert Mugabe go quietly if he is beaten at the ballot box?

In Latin America Paraguayans cast their ballots on 21 April to elect a new president after the ‘parliamentary coup’ of Fernando Lugo which saw the country suspended from Mercosur and Unasur.

And will ex-president Michelle Bachelet throw her hat in the ring for presidential elections in Chile on 17 November?

In Asia, the parliamentary election in Pakistan in May will be the one to watch, with voters disenchanted by their leaders, as protests spearheaded by the cleric Dr Tahirul Qadri showed. A cast of familiar characters are lined up but can any of them tackle Pakistan’s problems of militancy and corruption?

There are two referenda of interest: on 10 March people living in the Falklands will be asked whether they would like to remain British, further raising tensions between Britain and Argentina. Will that affect Britain’s relations with other Latin American countries? Later in the year, on 6 October Belize and Guatemala, will decide whether they are willing to let the International Court of Justice rule on their territorial dispute.

Angela Merkel faces tough elections
Will Ayatollah Khamenei’s
next pick for Iran’s
president be more conciliatory?