First Past the Post: December 26

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Welcome back after a wonderful Christmas break.

It’s been a busy stretch for world elections and world politics over the past couple of weeks, and I’ll have thoughts on Egypt, Venezuela and other countries soon, with some other thoughts on world politics as we close the books on 2012 and look to 2013, where key elections await in the first quarter in Israel, Italy, Kenya and elsewhere.

As usual, thanks to all of my readers — please share the word, and a happy holidays to all!

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East and South Asia

Shinzō Abe and the Liberal Democrats take office in Japan today — a coalition government with the Buddhist New Kōmeitō party.

Fumio Kishida will serve as Japan’s new foreign minister.

Former trade minister Banri Kaieda will become the new leader of the now-vanquished Democratic Party of Japan, largely from the most critical elements of the DPJ.

The gang rape of a woman in Delhi has finally caught the attention of India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh, who addressed the nation earlier this week.

Is India the worst nation in which to be a woman?

The People’s Republic of China has opened the world’s longest high-speed rail from Guangzhou, near Hong Kong in the south to China’s capital, Beijing (see above).

BusinessWeek anoints the Jim Cramer of China.

South Korean lawmaker Yoo Il-ho will serve as chief of staff for the transition team incoming presidential administration of Park Guen-hye in South Korea.  Here’s more on the transition.

Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood has been appointed the governor of Punjab, the most populous province of Pakistan.

North America

In a Christmas Eve piece, Foreign Policy examines the chances of former U.S. senator Chuck Hagel — a Republican from Nebraska — to become the next U.S. secretary of defense.

‘Monsieur’ John Kerry’s French connection.

Latin America / Caribbean

Americas Quarterly examines the relationship between Brazil and Africa.

The year in Brazilian politics.

Snap elections could take place in Guyana, Grenada and Barbados in early 2013.

Venezuelan vice president Nicolás Maduro claims to have had a 15-minute conversation with president Hugo Chávez, who is said to be recovering from surgery in Cuba.

Africa

Updates on the recovery of former South African president Nelson Mandela.

Starting point for Kenya’s March 4 presidential election.

Europe

UK prime minister David Cameron’s popularity is on the wane, now more than halfway through what should be a five-year government.

Outgoing technocratic Italian prime minister Mario Monti won’t run in his own right in February’s elections, but he will serve as head of a coalition government if asked and he will provide an agenda during the campaign for what he believes Italy should do next.

In Greece, Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA is leading polls and campaigning hard against the coalition government and austerity.

Is German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble planning his own post-election austerity regime for Germany late in 2013?

Middle East

Egyptians have apparently confirmed the hotly disputed constitution with nearly 64% of the vote after the second round of voting in a referendum finished Saturday.

With former foreign minister and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman being questioned by police over an ongoing scandal, Tzipi Livni may be Benjamin Nethanyahu’s choice for foreign minister after Jan. 22 Knesset elections, accordingly to sources.

Centrist Yair Lapid mocks Netanyahu’s red-lines graphic to emphasize the plight of the Israeli middle class.

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