Whoever wins the presidential election scheduled for April 9 in this tiny, brand-new half-island nation faces daunting challenges, including mass poverty, rampant gangs and lingering trauma from 24 years of brutal Indonesian rule.
The April 21 general election could be a constitutional transfer of power if President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler, bows out as promised. The front runner is a little-known provincial governor, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, whom Obasanjo has anointed as his successor.
President and military leader Pervez Musharraf will probably extend his rule another five years in September by staging a vote in his handpicked Parliament. So far, exiled opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's calls for open elections have been dismissed.
The military junta that overthrew elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last September has promised to hold fresh elections around October. Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin swears he will not run. But instigators of previous coups in Thailand have had a habit of lingering.
The top contenders in December's presidential election should be former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung Bak and former Grand National Party chairwoman Park Geun Hye, daughter of the former President Park Chung Hee. Both candidates will probably present a firmer line on North Korea.