Between the Arab Spring, the eurozone crisis and the impending elections in the United States, the global political landscape has been in turmoil in 2011. We take a look at who’s in and who’s out in world of politics as the year draws to a close.
Ben Ali and Mebazaa
Early this year, following sweeping protests calls for reform, Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down after 23 years in power. As violent protests raged across the country, Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia.
Tunisia’s Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi then formed a unity government to prepare for an election and oversee the transition to a new government. More than 90% of Tunisians turned out at the polls in October to elect a national assembly, which would write up a new constitution. Until then, interim president Fouad Mebazaa has the leadership of the country.
In June, Ben Ali was tried in absentia for corruption, possession and trafficking of arms and drugs, and separate charges of conspiring against the state and manslaughter.
Mubarak and Tantawi
This year, following the lead of Tunisia and Libya, Egypt’s young people rose up in open rebellion against the autocratic regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak first assumed the leadership in Egypt in 1981 and continued to rule until this year. When the Arab Spring came to Egypt, Mubarak at first tried to hold on to power, ignoring international calls for him to step aside so democracy could run its course.
But as the protests against him escalated, Mubarak accepted defeat, resigned and retreated to a compound in nearby Sharm el-Shaik, where he was placed under house arrest.
As he exited the political stage, Mubarak handed over power to the Supreme Council of the Armed forces, a group of senior military officers, headed by Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who have control of the country until elections take place in early December. In August, Mubarak was ordered to stand trial for the corruption and the pre-meditated murder of protesters during the uprising; a charge which could carry the death penalty.
As the months passed, public dissatisfaction with the way the military have handled the transition has grown and violent protests broke out once again in November. Essam Sharaf, who was chosen as prime minister by Tantawi, and his Cabinet offered to resign in the face of continued protests against the military.
Gbagbo and Outtara
After 11 years in power, Cote d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo lost an election to his political rival Alassane Ouattara. Not one to accept defeat, Gbagbo had himself sworn in as president and remained within the presidential palace. Meanwhile, outside the capital, Outtara did the same. In March, Outtara’s forces and their French military support swept into the city and seized power from Gbagbo. Outtara may have won the battle but the war for the Cote d’Ivoire is still being fought. Gbagbo’s party says it will not take part in the country’s next parliamentary election until Outtara meets certain demands.
Palin and Bachmann
US President Barack Obama may not have the support he once did from voters but, in the run-up to next year’s elections, his Republican Party opposition is still in disarray. The field is still wide open and Republican voters still seem confused about which way to go.
The media lapped up signs of an impending confrontation between Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, two candidates with a lot in common. Conservative Republicans, evangelists and Tea Party supporters, they were presented as allies as well as rivals for support with the Tea Party base going into the 2012 elections in the US.
Palin may have had a higher profile going into this year but Bachmann slowly took over as the preferred candidate. As the race for Republican candidacy ratcheted up, media outlets prepared themselves for a “cat-fight” between the two. But it never materialised. In October Palin announced that she was pulling out of the race, leaving Bachman to battle it out with a handful of male candidates.
Perry, Cain and Gingritch
Rick Perry’s campaign appeared to be the front-runner early on but his campaign a hit after a series of poor performances in political debates. He’s used quotes from the Bible to support his plans to overhaul Washington which, among other measures, aims to cut posts and salaries in congress and eliminate a handful of government agencies. Perry’s credibility suffered however when, in an online debate, he appeared to forget the details of his own plan.
Businessman Herman Cain then began to look like the most likely candidate. Though he managed to recover after past cases of sexual harassment resurfaced, his campaign took a dent when his inexperience with foreign affairs policy became evident. In a recent interview, Cain struggled to remember whether the US had backed or opposed Muammar Gaddafi during the Libyan crisis.
The new front-runner in the Republican race appears to be 68-year old Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the US House of Representatives. With the sudden surge in support, Gingrich’s campaign team now faces a struggle to catch up to the other candidates in terms of support staff and campaign funding.
Gaddafi and the NTC
After more than four decades in power, Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi came to a brutal end at the hands of an angry mob.
Dragged from his hiding place in a drain in Sirte by armed forces of the opposing National Transitional Council (NTC), beaten and shot, Gaddafi’s death was captured on video and beamed around the world; images of his battered, bleeding body were splayed across newspapers the next day.
NTC chairperson Mustafa Abdel Jalil has taken over as interim leader in Libya and, while the NTC decides how it will go about putting Gaddafi’s top aides on trial, the transitional prime minister Abdurrahim el-Keib prepares to name a new Cabinet that will govern until the country holds elections next year.
Berlusconi and Monti
Facing criminal charges of bribery, fraud and underage sex and an Italian economy in a state of collapse, Silvio Berlusconi was this year forced to resign as prime minister of Italy.
But he wasn’t going down without a fight. Before he’d even left office, his vast media empire began churning out propaganda, saying that he never lost the confidence of Parliament; that he had made impressive gains for the country while in office and that the incoming leadership represented bankers and not the people. He also still maintains a huge support base in Parliament, which will make it difficult for his successor, the former EU commissioner Mario Monti, to bring about the economic reform he’s planned. Berlusconi may be down but he is not out.
George Papandreou and Lucas Papademos
Two years after the Greek economy began its dramatic downward spiral off the back of high debt and reckless spending; the country teetered on the edge of financial collapse. As the EU cobbled together a relief plan, the country’s prime minister, George Papandreou, stepped down to make way for a new leader and a new way forward for the country.
The Greeks wasted no time in electing a new prime minister — one with the credentials to cure all their ills, a technocrat with an impeccable background in economics. Lucas Papademos is a former economist who has taught at Columbia University and the University of Athens and served as governor of the Bank of Greece and vice president of the European Central Bank. Only time will tell whether his technical expertise will be enough to pull Greece back from the brink.
Putin and Medvedev
Young Russians are growing weary of lame-duck Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a man who in recent years has become known more for his PR stunts than for his political leadership.
Putin and his political partner, President Dmitry Medvedev, haven’t done much to improve public perceptions after they decided to switch roles and stand for elections for a third time.
The tag-team political move allows Putin to sidestep Russian law which prohibits a person from holding the highest office in the country for more than two terms. It’s likely after the Russian elections next year, he will become president again.
View more highlights of the year that was in our special report.