the country faces down acute international pressure over its nuclear ambitions and internal discontent over a tailspinning economy.
The hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pic), will finally have to step down after two consecutive terms in office.
The election will be watched for any hint that the new administration would compromise on the nuclear issue and open up a way out of the current stalemate.
In reality though, the new president will have little power to change course. The fate of Iran's nuclear programme rests in the hands of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all state matters and enjoys a job for life.
The reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami, is once again being touted as a possible candidate in 2013, but conservatives are signalling that he would only be allowed to run if he distanced himself from the street opposition Green movement.
Ahmadinejad is grooming his controversial chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, as his successor. But the president has lost a great deal of his influence in the past two years.
Other names include Tehran's mayor, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf; the speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani; the former speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel; and the ex-foreign minister and current adviser to the supreme leader, Ali Akbar Velayati.
Few people predict anything other than re-election for Angela Merkel (pic) in Germany’s autumn vote.
The speculation is focused more on who will make up the new government than who will lead it.
Gerd Languth, professor of political science at the University of Bonn and a veteran observer of German politics, says it will not become clear until election night at the earliest, but he sees the possibility of three different coalition constellations.
First is “a new grand coalition” made up of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD), “though the SPD would fight tooth and nail for this not to happen, only seeing this as a last resort”.
Another option is a CDU-Green party grouping, a once unthinkable scenario.
He turns 89 in February and is still spoiling for a fight. Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's (pic) love of electioneering is matched only by his hatred of losing. He has declared that elections will be held in March 2013, though June seems likelier. Once again he will take on Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and once again there are omens of violence, intimidation and rigging.
In 2008, more than 200 Zimbabweans were killed, forcing Tsvangirai to enter a power-sharing agreement with Mugabe's Zanu-PF. Since then, the parties have fought like ferrets in a sack while the economy has made a wobbly recovery.
The MDC is tarnished this time as its ministers have failed to live up to their promises and become too accustomed to their Mercedes-Benzes and other perks. Recent opinion polls show Zanu-PF moving ahead of the MDC.
Trevor Maisiri of the International Crisis Group predicts there will be less violence. “Zanu-PF and the state institutions fear illegitimacy around another election. So they have been working to create an environment of intimidation on the ground.” The main winner may be apathy.
Iceland, population 320,000, has become a showcase for radical democratic reform. In April it will hold parliamentary elections and take this agenda further.
Reykjavik mayor Jon Gnarr (pic) – formerly a stand-up comedian – has confirmed he will stand for a new party, Bright Future.
In its earlier avatar, Best, it won municipal elections thanks to a comical campaign video – to the tune of Tina Turner's Simply the Best – promised a polar bear for Reykjavik zoo and free towels in all public swimming pools, and attracted many protest votes.
Since taking power, the party has taken difficult decisions and won plaudits for deciding policy through online debates and communicating with residents via Facebook.
Bright Future was set up to revive an interest in national politics in a similar way. On his own Facebook page Gnarr recently wrote: "I think Iceland could be the perfect laboratory for the future of democracy, direct democracy, participatory budgeting and other ideas." Or, as he promised in 2010, he may just want to ensure "a drug free parliament by 2020".
Israel goes to the polls in a general election on Jan 22, but no one is expecting a fundamental change in the next coalition government.
A rightwing alliance between the Likud party of PM Benjamin Netanyahu (pic) and hardline foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu is on course to emerge with the biggest number of seats – about 40 – in the 120-member parliament. Smaller religious and ultra-orthodox parties will give the rightwing a majority.
There are two key questions for his next term. First, whether he orders a unilateral Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Second, whether he makes a serious effort to address the calcified peace process with the Palestinians or continues his strategy of talking about talks while expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Mario Monti (pic) is aiming to stay on as Italian PM and Silvio Berlusconi has bounced back from his resignation in 2011 to seek another term, but Italy’s centre-left Democratic party is still the favourite to win the Feb election. “There will be a Democratic party government with Monti asked to come on board as finance minister or as president,” said Claudio Cerasa, assistant editor of the Italian daily Il Foglio.