The year began in Israel with one of the tightest elections in the country's modern history. Both candidates claimed victory in the Feb. 10 contest, but Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu prevailed: The 59-year-old leader was sworn in as the nation's prime minister for the second time, after first leading the Israeli government from 1996 to 1999.
Ten years later, Netanyahu faced the same central problem: how to negotiate an intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the challenge had a new twist: a newly elected U.S. president. By mid-year, President Barack Obama was calling on Israel to stop all settlement activity on lands claimed by Palestine for a future state, a position Netanyahu had vowed not to endorse.
At year's end, Netanyahu was reconsidering and called for a 10-month freeze on new Israeli construction in the West Bank. The move angered factions on both sides: Some Israelis considered the proposal a betrayal, and Palestinians said it didn't go far enough, leaving Netanyahu grappling to manage a new dynamic in an old problem.
The Taliban may not have been on the ballot in Afghanistan's presidential elections in August, but the group's militants still made gains: Election observers estimated as many as 70 percent of eligible voters stayed away from the polls, and they attributed the low turnout to Taliban intimidation, including death threats against anyone participating in the elections.
Peter Galbraith, then-deputy of the UN mission in Afghanistan, had warned against allowing polling stations to remain open in Taliban-controlled areas. Instead, officials threw out questionable ballots after the elections, reducing the lead of incumbent Hamid Karzai enough to force a runoff with opponent Abdullah Abdullah. The runoff never happened: Abdullah withdrew after the UN refused to make changes to avoid another fiasco, and after the Taliban attacked and killed UN workers in their own guesthouse in central Kabul.
Indian officials faced a massive task in April to organize elections in a country of 1 billion people. In the end, some 400 million voters cast ballots at 800,000 polling stations in a month-long process divided into five phases. The results: The country's ruling Congress party retained power and affirmed its progressive agenda in a nation facing mounting economic and security woes.
The losers: the Communist Party that opposed the ruling party's goals to move away from socialism and toward capitalism, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist group accused of violence and persecution toward both Christians and Muslims in India's northern regions.
Christian groups hoped that the BJP's losses would bring some relief to Indian Christians still reeling from violent campaigns wrought by Hindu extremists that drove about 50,000 people from their homes, killed at least 60 people, and left tens of thousands wounded.
When Zimbabweans installed Morgan Tsvangirai as their new prime minister in February, the country's currency was so devalued citizens used it for confetti at his swearing-in ceremony. The opposition leader's inauguration marked the beginning of a power-sharing agreement with President Robert Mugabe, whose corrupt policies had devastated his own nation: The country suffered from 90 percent unemployment, a collapsed healthcare system, rampant disease, and widespread hunger.
Tsvangirai vowed to reverse the worst policies and stabilize the spiraling nation. But Mugabe's dictatorship was not over, and the challenges were almost insurmountable: In March the car Tsvangirai and his wife were riding in was hit by a truck the prime minister said seemed to be coming "deliberately" at him; the crash killed his wife. Humanitarian conditions in Zimbabwe improved over the year, but Mugabe continued to harass and jail his critics, consigning Tsvangirai to continue battling the whims and abuses of the other half of a "unity" government.