For psephologist, 2010 wasn’t as big a year worldwide as 2009 — only three of the G20 countries held elections, as against five last year — but there were still plenty of highlights, and of course there was a lot going on in Australia. So here’s my top 10 for the year, plus a few dishonorable mentions. (Check out Adam Carr’s Psephos for all the details.)

Ukraine, presidential election (January 17/ February 7). Ukraine’s deep division between the Russian-leaning east and the EU-leaning west remained. This time the easterners scored a narrow victory, with Viktor Yanukovych beating Yulia Tymoshenko with just 51.8% in the second round.

Voters evidently decided that being nice to the Russians was a more promising policy than baiting them; time will tell how well it works.

Iraq parliamentary election (March 7). Showing again that it’s easier to take a country apart than to put it back to together again, Iraq’s election comprehensively failed to resolve its political problems. The two main power blocs finished almost exactly equal, and only yesterday — seven and a half months later — did parliament finally approve a new broad-based government under incumbent prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

United Kingdom, parliamentary election (May 6). Britain’s Labour government did better than it had any right to expect, and a gripping count eventually produced a hung parliament. Subsequent negotiations produced the country’s first coalition government since the Second World War, with Conservative David Cameron as prime minister and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg as his deputy.

Belgium, parliamentary election (June 13). Another deeply divided country; the secessionist New Flemish Alliance emerged as the largest party, but some sort of social-democrat led coalition is likely to emerge eventually. Negotiations are continuing, and the long-term prospects of a united Belgium look shakier than ever.

Poland, presidential election (June 20/July 4). The sympathy vote wasn’t enough to save Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose predecessor and twin brother Lech had been killed in a plane crash in April. Instead Poles elected Bronislaw Komorowski, from the Civic Platform party, confirming a trend across central Europe towards the more free-market liberal parties. Elections in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Moldova and Latvia showed the same tendency.

Australia, parliamentary election (August 21). Rushing to an early election without a coherent narrative and then borrowing the opposition’s instead almost led the Gillard government to disaster. It held on with a wafer-thin majority (50.1%) of the two-party-preferred vote and the support of three independents in the house of representatives. Labor also suffered large swings in three state elections; it managed to cling to office in South Australia and Tasmania, but was not so lucky in Victoria.

Sweden, parliamentary election (September 19). Further confirmation of Europe’s shift to the right — whether despite or because of the GFC still isn’t clear — as a centre-right government was re-elected in Sweden for the first time in living memory. Prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate Party remains in office. Not all big stories involve change: sometimes the lack of change is the most remarkable thing.

Brazil, presidential and parliamentary election (October 3/October 31). The biggest election of the year: popular incumbent Lula da Silva was ineligible for re-election, but his chosen successor Dilma Rousseff won with 56% of the vote in the second round to become the first woman elected president of Brazil. The country’s striking economic success of recent years and its new-found political stability reinforce each other.

Ivory Coast, presidential election (October 31/November 28). The divide in Cote d’Ivoire is between the Muslim north and Christian south.

The election was supposed to end a period of civil war, but although it was apparently conducted peacefully and fairly, southerner Laurent Gbagbo has refused to accept the victory of northerner Alassane Ouattara. Both men are maintaining rival administrations, but international pressure may force Gbagbo to back down.

United States, congressional election (November 2). It was generally a good year for incumbents, but US president Barack Obama, not personally up for re-election, saw his party receive a “shellacking” in mid-term elections. By tempting his opponents even further down the track of right-wing populism the result may eventually work to Obama’s advantage, but the new congress will give him some headaches in the meantime.

Dishonorable mentions: as usual, several countries held elections, or “elections”, whose fairness was less than obvious. Egypt managed to wipe out its already circumscribed opposition; Afghanistan held widely condemned parliamentary elections to complement last year’s presidential election; Sri Lanka’s incumbent war hero Mahinda Rajapaksha beat rival war hero General Fonseka in dubious polls (and subsequently had him arrested); Burma’s generals put a new façade on their old dictatorship; and Europe’s last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, credited himself with 80% of the vote just last weekend in Belarus.

Best wishes for the holidays and a democratic new year.

Peter Fray

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