In 2012, the world witnessed an unusual number of high-profile elections. Between the U.S. battle royale, Vladimir Putin's return to the Russian presidency, and the once-in-a-decade leadership transition in China, it seemed like the entire world was in flux. But don't be fooled by this year's quieter tempo: Everything from the European debt crisis, to Iran's nuclear program, to the stability of Africa will be influenced by voters at the ballot box in 2013. Here's a look at eight of the most consequential elections coming up.
Type: presidential, parliamentary
Date: March 4
Five years after Kenya's presidential election ended in tragedy, voters are headed back to the polls to replace incumbent president Mwai Kibaki and to fill the newly established Senate and regional governorships. In late 2007, following an ethically polarized campaign, presidential runner-up Raila Odinga refused to recognize the election results, touching off a wave of ethnic violence that left more than 1,100 people dead. This year, ethnic tensions are as high, if not higher, than in 2007, and two of the presidential candidates -- Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyetta and Minister of Higher Education William Ruto -- have been indicted by the International Criminal Court for their role in the 2007 violence. Odinga, who has been prime minister since 2008, and Kenyetta are currently considered the front-runners, but Ruto is still a viable candidate, as are Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Deputy Vice President Musalia Mudavadi.
From an ideological perspective, there isn't a lot riding on the election -- the policy platforms of the leading candidates are all virtually identical -- but a peaceful and fair balloting couldn't be more important. In addition to stunting Kenya's democratic development, more violence could send the country's economy into a tailspin, knocking as much as 1.3 percent off of this year's projected growth, according to the World Bank.