Egypt, France and Other International Elections to Watch

Egypt Votes After Arab Spring
Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

As voters in the United States are gearing up for a heated 2012 election season, so, too, are voters across the globe.

From Egypt, which held its first democratic election in centuries on May 23, to Mexico, which could have elected its first female president, a stream of countries are set for or have held highly contentious and internationally influential elections this year.

Here is a look at the top 10 most-hotly watched international elections taking place in 2012.

Enrique Pena Nieto vs. Josefina Vazquez Mota

PHOTO: Enrique Pena Nieto
Alexandre Meneghini/AP Photo

Official preliminary vote counts Sunday put Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Pedro Nieto on top of the Mexican presidential race. Nieto garnered 38 percent of the vote, according to preliminary counts, while second-place leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador raked in 31 percent. Lopez Obrador has refused to accept defeat until the final vote tallies are in.

The war against drug cartels has defined U.S.-Mexico relations for almost a decade. With Mexican President Felipe Calderon ineligible to run for another term, his party, the National Action Party, nominated Mexico's education minister, Josefina Vazquez Mota. If Mota, who was third with 25 percent of the vote as of Sunday, had won, she would be Mexico's first female president.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., along with other U.S. lawmakers, has expressed concern that the Mexican candidates will not be as committed as the incumbent president has been in cooperating with the United States to fight the cartels. But the next president is likely to continue Calderon's pressure on the United States to legalize marijuana in hopes of reducing the demand that fuels the drug trade.

During his tenure, Calderon has focused on using a militarized approach to break up cartels and reduce drug violence, which has killed nearly 50,000 Mexicans during the past five years.

Nieto has called for civil institutions to replace the military in the war on drug cartels. His platform focuses on the importance of economic growth and social welfare programs to keep civilians out of the cartels, a position that is gaining momentum in Mexico.

Mota has also stressed the importance of education and the need for Mexican citizens to be able to trust police again.

As the United States' third-largest trading partner, Mexico's stability and security is essential to the U.S. economy, according to foreign policy experts.

Andonis Samaras, Alexis Tspiras and more.

PHOTO: Supporters of the Syriza party erect a banner before a rally ahead of Sunday's general election, June 14, 2012 in Athens, Greece.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Greece

Greeks returned to the election polls for a second time in hopes of electing a new government on June 17. Greece was faced with two governmental frameworks to decide between. The first relied on heavy budget cutting required under the terms of an international bailout. The second option was to reject the fiscal austerity imposed by the rest of Europe, risking expulsion from the eurozone. In the end, a conservative New Democracy party came in first and pro-bailout parties won enough seats to form a joint government. Greece, along with the rest of Europe, has been plagued with financial turmoil and economic crisis'. The elections were intended to alleviate distress and bring some sense of control and normalcy to the Mediterranean country.

Mohamed Morsi vs. Ahmed Shafiq

PHOTOS: Egypt Elections
Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Egypt

Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, defeated Ahmed Shafik, the prime minister during former President Hosni Mubarak's regime, in the June 16-17, 2012, runoff to choose Egypt's first democratically elected president.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the country's ruling military body, quickly assumed complete legislative authority after Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that one third of the Muslim Brotherhood-led Parliament had to be immediately dissolved.

It was believed that Morsi beat his opponent by by a margin of about 4 percentage points, or about a million votes. Election officials did not immediately release the official results, though state-run, unofficial media reported that Morsi led in the vote count.

The uprising against Mubarak in Egypt led the Muslim Brotherhood to emerge from the margins of political power, and the group has played an important role in the post-Mubarak parliament, occupying 45 percent of the seats.

Nicolas Sarkozy vs. Francois Hollande

PHOTO: Socialist Party (PS) newly elected president Francois Hollande gives a speech after the results of the second round of the presidential election on May 6, 2012 in Tulle, southwestern France, and Right-wing incumbent candidate Nicolas Sarkozy (R) ad
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/GettyImages; ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/GettyImages

When Francois Hollande, the leader of France's Socialist Party, ousted incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy in France's presidential election on May 6, 2012, it sent shock waves through the already-fragile eurozone and rumbled the foundations of the international financial recovery.

The debt crisis was the major theme of this election cycle in the eurozone. Hollande ran on a pledge to balance austerity measures with pro-growth investment and increased taxes on the wealthy, a platform that now puts France at odds with it's major European partner, Germany, which has stressed the need for budget cuts. Sarkozy's re-election platform focused on tighter immigration controls, more economic reforms and policies to help France ride out the european debt crisis.

Sarkozy's campaign faced multiple obstacles: He had a floundering approval rating of 31 percent, he failed to deliver on his pledge to cut France's 10 percent unemployment rate in half, and the country's debt rose by an estimated 40 percent during his five-year tenure as president.

Sarkozy, an American tabloid favorite thanks to his supermodel-turned-singer wife, Carla Bruni, and their newborn child, is often referred to as the "Mitt Romney of Europe" by the media, as many French citizens view him as wealthy and out-of-touch.

Military Junta Disrupts Elections

PHOTO: Ruling party presidential candidate Carlos Gomes Junior gestures after the electoral commission announced provisional election results in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, March 21, 2012.
Tanya Bindra/AP Photo

A military coup in the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau in April came mere weeks before a run-off election that many hoped would bring stability to the troubled nation.

The first round of elections had taken place on March 18 after the death of President Malam Bacai Sanha, with Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. coming in first with 49 percent of the vote and his challenger, Kumba Yala, getting 23 percent. The run-off elections were scheduled for April 29, but the coup took place on April 12.

The soldiers shut down the capital and surrounded Gomes' home, along with various government buildings, and took the local radio stations offline. The perpetrators of the coup would not allow any politicians to leave the capital.

Yala has denounced the coup and issued a joint statement with four other candidates who were running in this year's election, saying they all "strongly condemn all forms of taking power by force."

Just before the coup took place, Guinea-Bissau's electoral commission announced that run-off elections were to be held on April 29. But now that the military junta has taken control, it proposes a two-year time frame for a transition back to civilian rule.

A regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said it would never accept such an arrangement.

A Military Coup Delays Elections

PHOTO: Parliamentary head Dioncounda Traore is sworn in as interim president at a ceremony in Bamako, Mali, April 12, 2012.
Harouna Traore/AP Photo

The inland West African nation of Mali is facing troubled political times.

A little over a month before elections were scheduled to take place in the country this year, a military group entered the capital and took control of the government.

The international community condemned the coup. However, the leader of the National Assembly, Dioncounda Traore, was sworn in as an interim president on April 12. The temporary government was aiming to hold elections within 40 days of its instatement.

In addition, Tuareg rebel groups were said to have received an influx of weaponry after participation in the fighting in Libya and were taking advantage of the instability by staging an uprising in the north.

Traore, in a statement directed at the Tuareg rebels, said to cease military force or face "total and relentless war," according to the New York Times.

"Mali has never experienced such difficult times," Traore said.

According to a BBC report, Traore and the coup leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, reached an agreement that would allow Traore to remain in office for one year on May 21.

The semblance of stability, however, was short-lived. Traore was attacked by demonstrators within 24 hours. It was suspected that soldiers stationed nearby allowed demonstrators to pass without interference into Traore's office.

A volatile political situation continued to unfold in a country where democratic rule had prevailed for the previous two decades.

Libya's first elections since the violent death of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi will choose a 200-member National Assembly to manage the country's affairs for the next year and draft the nation's new constitution.

The vote for a new Libyan national assembly has been pushed back to July 7 with the intention of giving candidates more time to campaign and voters more time to register. The original election date was June 19 but the commission wanted more time to look into appeals regarding potential candidate qualifications.

The most critical matter in revolutionary Libya is the issue of legitimacy, or lack thereof, which has widened divisions. Officials hope that the elections will have a stabilizing effect on the country and quell the recent chaos and militia violence that has lingered in the country in the aftermath of one of the Arab Spring's leading revolutions, the New York Times reported.

Only time will tell whether the revolution Libyans shed blood for will result in the progressive, democratic changes at the heart of the Arab Spring uprising.

PHOTO: Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, center, gestures during a meeting with his cabinet in Havana, Cuba, March 11, 2012.
Miraflores Press Office/AP Photo

The leftist politics of anti-U.S. President Hugo Chavez have ruled Venezuela since 1999. Chavez will face Henrique Capriles Radonski, the governor of the country's second-largest state, Miranda, in an election on Oct. 7.

The incumbent president has the state media as well as government money from Venezuela's vast oil wealth on his side. Despite some of the country's antagonism towards Chavez, he still has many supporters and a strong connection with the poor in Venezuela.

Chavez' health could put his re-election at risk. The Venezuelan leader has cancer and is recovering from his third surgery in a year. Despite reports that Chavez's cancer is spreading, he maintains that he is recovering fast and is ready for the grueling campaign season.

Chavez's signature campaign style involves personally meeting the beneficiaries of his welfare programs. But the president is undergoing radiation treatment that threatens his ability to be mobile as the campaign kicks into high gear.

Instead, Chavez's team is opting to harness the power of the Internet to "virtually" interact with voters in slums and rural areas. His Twitter account lay dormant in the days following his surgery, but posting resumed at the end of February with his usual greeting to followers: "Good morning, good world!"

Despite his early momentum, Chavez' challenger, Radonski, faces an uphill battle to unseat the current leader. Radonski has been vilified in Venezuela's state-run media, accused of being a homosexual and a Zionist. His campaign platform focuses on improving education as a way to alleviate poverty.

On March 4, Radonski held a rally in Caracas, during which a group of armed men fired guns. In a message on his Twitter account, Radonski blamed the government for the attacks, but the group responsible has yet to be identified.

While Chavez has made limited public appearances in recent months, on June 12 he released a 39-page manifesto detailing his plans for expanded socialism in Venezuela upon his reelection.

Days prior to the release of Chavez' report, Radonski led a march through Venezuela's capital. The June 10 protest occurred in conjunction with Radonski's formal registration of his candidacy.

Radonski currently trails Chavez in the polls.

PHOTO: President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade is seen in this September 24, 2010 in New York City.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Senegal's presidential election took place on Feb. 26 amid controversy and protests over the constitutionality of a third term for incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade.

Although Wade won the majority of the vote, no candidate received 50 percent of the vote needed to assume the presidency.

In the March 25 run-off election, Macky Sall defeated Wade and announced that "new era" was beginning in Senegal.

Thousands of people gathered in Dakar following the first round of voting to support of Sall, including the 12 opposition candidates who fell off the ballot after the first round of the vote.

Wade's popularity plummeted in Senegal as food prices soared and frequent power cuts have handicapped the livelihoods of many Senegalese people. But Wade said he failed to win the majority because "the West was campaigning against me," South Africa's News 24 reported. The 85-year-old's campaign sparked anger and protests in Senegal, leading the U.S. and France to urge the leader to retire.

At least six people died in protests leading up to the election, and hundreds more were injured.

PHOTO: Moon Jae-In is seen in this May 23, 2009 file photo.
Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea's presidential elections will take place Dec. 19. Incumbent president Lee Myung-bak is term-limited and ineligible for reelection. The current frontrunner is Moon Jae-in, a South Korean lawyer who was jailed for protesting against military rule in 1975, and who advocates more welfare spending and closer ties with North Korea.

Foreign policy experts say the election is "wide-open" and key issues will be the economy, jobs and wealth disparity. Jae-in's strongest opponent is conservative Park Geun-hye, the daughter of a South Korean military ruler, who has been the favorite up until recently.

While neither potential candidate has officially declared whether they will run, both are considered to be near-certain candidates.

Conservatives in South Korea have witnessed a recent decline in popularity, and the liberal opposition is expected to steal the conservatives' majority in Parliament in the April parliamentary election.

The United States is watching this election closely, as the potential change in leadership in South Korea comes at a crucial time -- following the death of North Korean leader Kim Kong-il in December 2011.

PHOTO: Pres. Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping during meetings in the Oval Office of the White House in Wash., DC, Feb. 14, 2012.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vice Premier Wen Jiabao will hand over power to "heir apparent" Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang this fall. All are members of China's ruling Communist Party, one of the largest political parties in the world.

Under the Chinese constitution, the successor must simultaneously hold three positions to be the leader: general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), president of the People's Republic of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

The successor is hand-chosen by the CCP leadership. The National People's Congress that will be held towards the end of the year merely lends an official confirmation of the new leader.

Future Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Washington in February as he prepared to become China's paramount leader. He will succeed Hu Jintao as general secretary of the Communist Party in October or November and as president in 2013.

Xi's daughter is currently a sophomore at Harvard University, President Obama's alma mater.

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