Why you should care

These are the people who will lead the world in the next year and beyond.

This was a year of big democracy: More people went to the polls than have ever voted before. Many of them in countries that previously hadn’t seen as much civic engagement as they would have liked. Yes, there was the American midterm election, which you can read about in another story today, but there were also a couple of other crucial nations who got to wear their various versions of “I Voted” stamps.

India

Elections in India take weeks and involve, on occasion, camels dragging polling booths through the desert. So getting the country engaged is no small feat. But this year was explosive: A decades-long reigning party and dynastic political family was upset by the smooth-spoken Narendra Modi, who made promises of opening up India’s markets and won hearts based on his economic policies. His party represents a resurgence in a certain type of nationalism — though officially a secular, pluralist nation, the majority of India’s population is Hindu. And some of those Hindus don’t want Muslims around. Modi was the subject of controversy in previous years for his implicated involvement in anti-Muslim violence; the U.S. even denied him a visa. But one thing is clear: India is in major makeover mode.

Brazil

Little was more soap-operatic this year than Brazil’s election, which saw two leftist parties facing off against one another: the reigning and later-victorious Dilma Rousseff against the socialist Eduardo Campos. Everything changed, however, when Campos died suddenly in a plane crash, leading a skinny, black, rags-to-riches woman named Marina Silva to take his place. For a few moments it seemed as though she might indeed take the crown from Rousseff, but the latter triumphed, yet again. There were more than a few other twists, though: like this weird Brazilian rule that allows people to hit a white button at the polls in protest of the electoral process … and which can actually sway the results. What’s up next? Rousseff has to (re)pick her team. We took guesses at that, too.

Dear readers: These pieces were written in the heat of the electoral cycle — meaning when you click the hyperlinks to check them out, note that you’re entering a time capsule of our best election coverage, from right in the moment.

Japan’s Snap Election

This one was a surprise, called by Japan’s current and remaining prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Abe — who’s best-known for his aggressive economic policy, known aptly as Abenomics — had some political tactics up his sleeves when he called for a vote. He’s busy trying to solve Japan’s persistent labor productivity problems, but his reign was facing troubles — hence the re-election strategy to renew his mandate so he can keep up the goals of Abenomics through the new year. He won that mandate, and many see him pushing ahead successfully with the policies, upping productivity and trimming the fat in 2015. Others remind us that it’s tough as all hell to impose fiscal discipline. But wait to see in the new year.

The Rise of the European Right

Europe’s tea party hit it big this year: the rise of Le Front Nationel and the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP, for short, says something major about the way the continent is trending. It’s more than a revival of Thatcherian politics, it’s an advent of a European citizenry that’s objecting to two major things: open borders and the Euro. The faces of this new right? Meet just a few of them, from France to Germany to Hungary.

Indonesia and the Global Cory Bookers

It’s increasingly common to call beloved populists “X country’s Cory Booker,” copping the name of New Jersey politician Booker, who is famous for responding to nearly every tweet sent about his home of Newark. There was Arvind Kejriwal, an unsuccessful candidate in India’s elections. But the one who proved the strategy could work was Joko Widodo, aka Jokowi, who was basically always the favored candidate in Indonesia’s presidential election. He’s helped boost the economy already and stayed humble by traveling economy class to his son’s graduation. Still, it’s honeymoon days yet. And it didn’t take long for the tide to turn against Obama. One thing we do know for sure: Jokowi is one more proof point for another one of our reckonings: that mayors are the next great politicians.

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