By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
2011 will likely be recorded as a year of historic change. Mass uprisings have upended governments across the Arab world. Economic mismanagement in Europe led to changes at the top in Italy, Greece and Spain. 365 days ago you couldn't have predicted these events. You couldn't have imagined so many leaders would lose their jobs.
So what if I told you that you can predict that in 2012, a lot of leaders will say goodbye? No, I'm not gazing into a magic crystal ball. You see, 2012 is the year of elections.
59 countries will be tallying up votes - local, state or national. There are 193 countries in the world so that's about a third of the world's nations. 26 of these may see a change in national leadership. Together, these changes could affect 53% of the world's population, representing half of the world's GDP. And a lot of the change is concentrated in the world's most powerful countries.
Four out of the five U.N. Security Council members could see changes at the top. That's Russia, China, France, and, of course, the U.S. These four countries alone represent 40% of the world's GDP.
Of all of them, China will not have democratic elections, of course, but it will see the biggest, wholesale change at the top. 70% of the country's leadership will be new. But we're not expecting any surprises - it's widely believed that Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao will be replaced by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. So, get used to those names, you'll be hearing a lot of them.
Russia's election will be the most predictable. We already know that Prime Minister Putin is going to become President Putin once again. But even that change isn't as clear-cut as you'd imagine. For the first time in years, it seems like it's becoming acceptable in Russia to criticize the Kremlin. Putin was recently openly booed at a boxing match, and his party had a stunningly weak showing in the recent parliamentary elections.
What about Washington? One year from now we could have a President Mitt Romney. Or a President Newt Gingrich. Or another Obama term.
South of the border, that perennial pain in Washington's backside, Hugo Chavez himself, needs to win an election - though he rigged the last one. There will be changes too in Mexico, Egypt, Taiwan and Kenya, just to name a few.
Some of these elections and leadership changes involve nothing more than personnel shifts; others will be occasions for fundamental debates about the future course of the country. It could mean a shift so that we will see a different Europe, a different China, and a different America in the next few years.
So for those of you who have been struck by the volatility of recent years - the roller coaster ride we've all been on from boom to bust, crisis to crisis - I would say, keep that seatbelt strapped on because you're going to see a lot of churn over the next year. It may not be bad but there will be no shortage of political twists and turns around the world - and those are just the ones we know about. One thing I can promise, we'll be tracking them all right here on CNN.com/GPS and on my show every Sunday at 10a.m. and 1p.m. EST.