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Government > Leaders > Prime minister > Profile: Countries Compared

DEFINITION: Government > Leaders > Prime minister > Profile.
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION
Albania

Edi Rama became prime minister in September 2013, three months after elections in which his Socialist Party won a landslide victory that brought to an end eight years of conservative rule.

Mr Rama's main campaign pledges were to revive Albania's ailing economy, combat widespread corruption and crime, and speed up the country's integration into the European Union.

The election was closely monitored by the EU, which has twice rejected Albania's membership application and warned that the poll would be "a crucial test" for its further progress towards integration in the bloc.

The outcome of the previous election, which returned the centre-right Democratic Party to power in 2009 by an extremely slender margin, was hotly disputed by the Socialists, who refused to recognise the result and launched a campaign of mass protests and civil disobedience in support of demands for a recount.

Mr Rama became the leader of the Socialists in 2005 and spearheaded the party's challenging of the 2009 election outcome. The dispute over the result appeared at times to be bringing the country to the edge of civil conflict, and became a significant obstacle to Albania's EU integration.

His predecessor as prime minister, Sali Berisha, dominated the country's political scene for more than 20 years, but by 2013 the electorate appeared to have become tired of the lack of economic progress under Mr Berisha and his perceived failure to tackle organised crime.

Edi Rama is a painter-turned-politician who studied at the School of Fine Arts in Paris and during the 1990s made his home in the French capital.

On his return to Albania, he became minister of culture in the Socialist government of Fatos Nano in 1998.

In 2000, he was elected mayor of Tirana - a position he held until 2011. As mayor, he set out to remake the impoverished capital into a lively modern city, and embarked on a number of controversial projects, one of which was to order the painting of many old buildings in what became known as Edi Rama colours - bright pink, yellow, green and violet.

Mr Rama's critics claimed that he devoted too much attention to cosmetic changes and failed to get to grips with major problems such as the unreliability of basic services in Tirana.

As prime minister, he faces many tough challenges. His pledge to improve living standards - in a country where many people depend heavily on financial aid from the large Albanian diaspora in Western Europe and the United States - will be especially difficult to realise.

A fluent speaker of English, French and Italian, Mr Rama is described by observers as a dynamic man with a strong personality.

The new cabinet that he presented to parliament at the beginning of his tenure consists of mostly youthful political newcomers and includes six women - an unprecedented step in Albania.

Antigua and Barbuda

Baldwin Spencer and his opposition United Progressive Party won a landslide victory in general elections in March 2004. He led the party to victory in 2009, though with a reduced majority.

The 2004 win ended the political dynasty of the Bird family, which had dominated Antiguan politics for more than half a century.

Mr Spencer promised to fight corruption and added that "crimes committed against the people" would not go unpunished.

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A lifelong labour activist, Baldwin Spencer was born in the working-class community of Green Bay.

The premiership of Lester Bird, Mr Spencer's predecessor, had been dogged by allegations of bribery and of missing funds from Antigua's health care system. Mr Bird denied the charges.

Barbados

Freundel Stuart first became prime minister when his predecessor, David Thompson, died in office in October 2010.

Mr Stuart, who had been deputy prime minister and attorney general, was appointed by Governor General Sir Clifford Husbands to head the government until the next elections.

These were held in February 2013 and were a close-run race: although polls had predicted a narrow win for the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP), in the event Mr Stuart's Democratic Labour Party (DLP) scraped through to victory with 16 seats in the 30-member House of Assembly.

The BLP is considered to be conservative and pro-business, while the DLP is considered to be more attuned to the needs of working people.

The 2013 victory is the DLP's second consecutive win. In the January 2008 elections, it won 20 parliamentary seats and came to power after 14 years of government by the Barbados Labour Party under the leadership of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur.

Mr Stuart said his government would continue with its policies, despite facing very difficult economic circumstances and what he described as "the worst crisis the world has seen in a century".

Barbados suffered several credit rating downgrades in the run-up to the election, and Mr Stuart's government has struggled to stabilise the shaky economy.

Barbados has a two-house parliament comprising the directly-elected House of Assembly and the Senate.

Belize

Dean Barrow's United Democratic Party (UDP) won the general election in February 2008 and again in March 2012.

A leading lawyer, he was elected to parliament in 1984 and served in senior positions in UDP governments until opposition the PUP won a landslide in 1998. He then led the party in opposition until its victory at the polls in 2008.

In the 2008 vote, he unseated the People's United Party (PUP) government of Said Musa, which had been in power for 10 years. In the last years of Mr Musa's government, the PUP had been rocked by allegations of corruption.

The PUP was the driving force behind independence and was pretty much unchallenged at the ballot box until the formation of UDP in the mid-1970s.

Bulgaria

Plamen Oresharski was confirmed new prime minister at the head of a Socialist-backed technocrat government in May 2013, ending months of political impasse.

Bulgaria had been without a permanent administration since the previous February, when street protests against low living standards toppled a government led by the centre-right GERB party.

Mr Oresharski, a professor of finance at Sofia's University for National and World Economy, was put forward by the Socialists as a Bulgarian version of Italy's respected former technocrat prime minister Mario Monti, after snap elections.

Former premier Boyko Borisov's GERB party, which won the vote, had failed to find partners to govern, leaving the second-placed Socialists to name a new prime minister.

Assuming office, Mr Oresharski warned that Bulgaria is "in a deep institutional crisis, continuing economic depression and worsening disintegration of society".

But as Oresharski's government quickly lost support amid allegations of corrupt ties with business groups, anti-government protests continued.

Protesters' anger against Mr Oresharski's government were inflamed by the appointment - later reversed by parliament - of controversial media mogul Delyan Peevski as head the national security agency. Some accuse the cabinet of being backed by a "Red Mafia".

A finance minister in a Socialist-led coalition between 2005 and 2009, Mr Oresharski won praise for implementing a key reform in Bulgaria's taxation system.

He was also part of the team that oversaw the introduction of an IMF-led currency board regime in 1997 - pegging the national currency, the lev, to the euro at a fixed rate - that stabilised the economy and is still in place.

Cambodia

Hun Sen, one of the world's longest-serving prime ministers, has been in power in various coalitions since 1985.

He was reappointed by parliament in September 2013 for a further five-year term. The move followed mass demonstrations and came amid a boycott of parliament by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which alleged fraud in the July elections.

The prime minister's Cambodian People's Party won 68 seats in the poll, to the CNRP's 55. The CNRP said it was cheated out of 2.3 million votes.

Hun Sen is no stranger to controversy. He seized power from his then co-prime minister, Prince Ranariddh, in 1997. More recently, some Western countries have said his rule has become increasingly authoritarian.

Born in 1952, Hun Sen joined the Communist Party in the late 1960s and, for a time, was a member of the Khmer Rouge. He has denied accusations that he was once a top official within the movement, saying he was only an ordinary soldier.

During the Pol Pot regime in the late 1970s he joined anti-Khmer Rouge forces based in Vietnam.

Hun Sen has said he will rule Cambodia into his seventies.

Canada

The Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper won a third consecutive term in office in snap elections held in May 2011.

The party gained support, transforming its minorty in parliament into a majority.

Mr Harper's government had been toppled by the opposition in March 2011. A motion, brought by the main opposition Liberal Party and backed by two other opposition parties, declared the government was in contempt of parliament and had lost its confidence in a row centered on Mr Harper's budget plans.

The opposition said Mr Harper's government was in contempt of parliament for failing to provide the estimated costs for a number of spending programmes.

It was the first time that a Canadian government had been found in contempt of parliament.

Mr Harper became prime minister in 2006, after elections that brought to an end 12 years of Liberal government.

However, the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority and had to work with opposition parties in order to govern.

Economic crisis

Two years into his first term, Mr Harper called an early election in an attempt to win a working majority. His party improved its position in the October 2008 election, winning 16 more seats than in the 2006 election, but still fell short of an overall majority.

Two months later, Mr Harper came close to being toppled by an alliance of the opposition Liberal and New Democrat parties over his handling of the economic crisis, but avoided a no-confidence vote by suspending parliament for a month.

He prorogued parliament for a second time in January 2010, this time for two months. He described the suspension as "routine", but it drew an angry response from opposition leaders.

They said the move was aimed at avoiding a potentially embarrassing debate on the government's role in the torture of Afghan terror detainees.

Born in Toronto, Ontario in 1959, Stephen Harper studied economics at the University of Calgary in Alberta. He became an MP in 1993 and became leader of the newly-merged Conservative party in 2004.

He is married and has two children. Aside from politics and intellectual pursuits, he is passionate about ice hockey.

Croatia

Zoran Milanovic became prime minister after his four-party centre-left coalition bloc defeated the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in elections in December 2011.

The HDZ had held power for most of the previous two decades, but had come to be seen as mired in corruption - a view that was confirmed when former HDZ prime minister Ivo Sanader was put on trial for corruption in November 2011.

Riding a tide of popular anger over government graft and economic stagnation, the Kukuriku ("cock-a-doodle-doo") bloc led by Mr Milanovic's own Social Democratic Party (SDP) won 81 seats in the 151-seat national assembly. The SDP took 61 of those seats.

Mr Milanovic's chief election pledges were to revitalise the struggling economy and prepare Croatia for EU membership.

His government adopted tough austerity measures in an effort to avoid a further downgrade in the country's credit rating - which by the end of 2010 had deteriorated to just a notch above junk status - revive industry and attract foreign investment.

Mr Milanovic's efforts to restructure industry - especially the country's ailing shipyards - and cut back on public spending in order to meet the conditions for EU entry brought the government into conflict with the unions and dampened enthusiasm for EU membership.

Unemployment has remained stubbornly high. Shortly before the centre-left coalition came to power the jobless rate stood at just under 18%; by February 2013 it was closer to 19%, with youth unemployment at 51%.

On the eve of Croatia's EU accession in July 2013, Mr Milanovic acknowledged that the bloc's economic woes had undermined the Croatian people's support for membership, but insisted that there were still many good reasons for joining.

Zoran Milanovic joined the SDP in 1999 and became the party's president in June 2007, in an election that followed the death of the party's founder, veteran Croatian politician Ivica Racan, two months earlier.

He then led the SDP into the November 2007 general election, which it narrowly lost.

He was born in Zagreb in 1966 and after studying law at university embarked on a diplomatic career. In 1994, he went to Nagorno-Karabakh on a peace mission on behalf of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and was the first Croatian citizen to serve in this role.

He is married, and has two sons.

Dominica

Roosevelt Skerrit's governing Dominica Labour Party won general elections in May 2005.

Campaigning on a pledge to increase the minimum wage and attract foreign investment, Mr Skerrit and the DLP were re-elected by a landslide in December 2009.

A former education minister, Mr Skerrit took office as Dominica's youngest prime minister two days after the sudden death of his predecessor, Pierre Charles, in January 2004. He was chosen by his party to succeed the late leader.

He inherited the challenge of boosting Dominica's sluggish economy, which relies heavily on tourism and banana exports.

In 2004 Mr Skerrit's government cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favour of ties with mainland China. The prime minister said Beijing had agreed to give more than $100 million in aid - equivalent to $1,500 for each Dominican.

He has also sought close ties with left-wing President Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. In January 2008, Dominica joined ALBA, a Central and South American trade group, which was proposed by Venezuela and opposes neoliberal economic policies.

Roosevelt Skerrit - who was 31 when he took office - studied English and psychology in the US before becoming a teacher and a lecturer on the island. He entered parliament in 2000.

East Timor

President Ramos-Horta appointed former President Gusmao as prime minister in August 2007, breaking a political impasse following inconclusive parliamentary polls in June.

The appointment of Mr Gusmao, the leader of armed resistance to Indonesian rule, sparked violent protests from supporters of the former ruling Fretilin party.

Fretilin won 21 seats in the 65-member Parliament, well short of a majority. Mr Gusmao's party won 18 but formed a coalition comprising 37 seats. His party emerged as the largest at the subsequent elections in 2012, but again had to form a coalition to achieve a majority in parliament.

Mr Gusmao had set up the National Congress of East Timor's Reconstruction (CNRT) in 2007 to wrest power from Fretilin.

Estonia

The centre-right coalition led by Andrus Ansip increased its parliamentary majority in elections held in March 2011.

Mr Ansip thus bettered his own record of being Estonia's first sitting prime minister to be re-elected since the country quit the Soviet Union in 1991.

He became prime minister in April 2005 and in March 2007 his centre-right Reform Party won parliamentary polls, but with too small a margin to govern alone.

It went on to form a coalition with the conservative Pro Patria-Res Publica (IRL) and the Social Democrats.

The re-election of the coalition in March 2011 was seen as voters rewarding the government for piloting the country through the economic crisis caused by the credit crunch of 2008, and into recovery.

It was also Estonia's first election since joining the single European currency in January 2011. Mr Ansip had originally aimed for eurozone membership in January 2007 but high inflation led the government to put back the target entry date.

Taking office for his third term, Mr Ansip said that improving the quality of people's lives was a top priority.

But by late 2012, his party's opinion poll ratings fell to a record low as a result of popular anger at the quashing of a money-laundering and party funding case and the subsequent resignation of the justice minister, Kristen Michal.

In the run-up to the March 2007 poll Mr Ansip backed legislation that paved the way for the removal of a controversial Red Army memorial in Tallinn. The law, and the subsequent relocation of the statue, sparked fury in Moscow.

Andrus Ansip was 48 when he became premier. He entered national politics in 2004 following six years as mayor of Tartu, Estonia's second city.

He is married and has three daughters.

Ethiopia

Hailemariam Desalegn was sworn in as prime minister of Ethiopia in September 2012, ending a period of uncertainty following the death of long-term leader Meles Zenawi.

As a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Mr Hailemariam was considered a close ally of Meles Zenawi and following his swearing in, pledged to continue his "legacy without any change".

Meles Zenawi, who led the country since overthrowing the previous regime in 1991, died of complications following a long illness.

He was praised by many for his success in revitalising Ethiopia's economy but criticised for his human rights record and his failure to allow a full democracy to flourish in Ethiopia. He led the country to war against Eritrea in 1998, and also sent troops into Somalia.

Mr Hailemariam is to stay in office until elections in 2015.

An engineer by training he leads the ruling coalition Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

Mr Hailemariam became acting prime minister on the death of Mr Meles in August, but faced a backroom struggle to gain the approval of the Front leadership before assuming the most powerful post in the country.

A Protestant Christian from the small Welayta ethnic group in southern Ethiopia, Mr Hailemariam had worked in academia and regional government while many EPRDF luminaries came to the fore through fighting against the Communist government in the 1980s.

He benefited from a scheme Mr Meles launched in 2009 to bring technocrats into central government, and earned a reputation as a loyal aide to the prime minister.

Finland

Mr Katainen's conservative National Coalition Party emerged as the largest single group in parliament in the April 2011 elections.

He formed a grand coalition in June with six other parties from the left and centre, including the Social Democrats.

The new opposition is the populist True Finns party, which refused to join the government in protest at its support for a bailout for Portugal during the debt crisis.

Born in 1971, Mr Katainen worked as a teacher before being elected a councillor in 1993. He entered parliament in 1999 and became party leader in 2004.

He served as deputy prime minister and finance minister in the previous two Centre-Party-led coalition governments between 2007 and 2011.

France

Jean-Marc Ayrault, a long-standing ally of President Hollande, is a veteran leader of the Socialists' parliamentary bloc and mayor of Nantes. The premiership is his first senior government post.

He has a reputation as a calm consensus-builder. Mr Ayrault is a German-speaker, seen as an asset for the president in handling France's relationship with Germany.

Hungary

Mr Orban, whose right-wing Fidesz party won a two-thirds majority in parliament in April 2010, had previously served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002.

Fidesz's landslide election victory has allowed it to push through a number of radical legislative changes.

On coming to power, Mr Orban promised firm but moderate government, and sought to distance Fidesz from the far-right Jobbik party, which entered parliament for the first time.

Fidesz pledged to cut taxes, curb tax evasion, create jobs and reduce state bureaucracy. Mr Orban made an immediate start by pruning the number of ministries to eight - leaving him with the smallest cabinet in the post-communist era.

His biggest challenge was posed by Hungary's severe public debt problem, and he proceeded to tackle this with what the government itself describes as an "unorthodox" economic policy.

This policy includes high taxes on banks and multinationals, the nationalisation of private pension funds and frequent verbal attacks on the IMF and European Union.

Mr Orban's government also took steps to curb the independence of the Hungarian National Bank.

Tense relations with IMF, EU

Mr Orban's dealings with international financial institutions have been fraught with tension. He initially ruled out renewing the IMF-led loan that rescued Hungary from financial collapse in 2008, to avoid giving the organisation too much say over his government's economic policy.

Hungary reopened talks with the IMF in November 2011 with the aim of securing a credit lifeline. The IMF cut short these talks after only a few weeks, citing concerns over the independence of the Hungarian National Bank.

Hungary agreed to make some changes to the central bank law in April 2012, and the European Commission said that this would allow negotiations over a 15bn-euro (£12bn) bailout package with the IMF to resume.

However, in September 2012 Mr Orban rejected the terms of the IMF loan, saying that these were not in Hungary's interests and that his government would come up with alternative proposals.

The following month, in a speech delivered on the anniversary of the failed 1956 revolution, Mr Orban criticised the EU for interfering in Hungary's domestic affairs.

He maintains that his government's radical policies have prevented the Hungarian economy from collapsing and have reduced the country's debt.

And indeed, Hungary's success in bringing its budget deficit down to below the permitted EU threshold of 3% and the country's emergence from recession in early 2013 appeared to indicate that these policies had had the desired effect.

However, some of Mr Orban's more populist economic policies - for example, a move to make foreign-owned banks bear the consequences of Hungarian borrowers' inability to pay back loans denominated in foreign currencies - have encountered domestic opposition. In December 2013, the Hungarian Supreme Court blocked the government's attempt to make the banks shoulder the losses on such loans, which many Hungarians took out before the 2008 financial crisis.

Democratic concerns

On the political front, a media law introduced in January 2011 was widely criticised at home and abroad for undermining media freedoms. The EU said that amendments to the media law passed in May 2012 failed to address concerns over the political independence of Hungary's Media Authority, and it called on the Hungarian government to do more to ensure media pluralism.

At the beginning of 2012, Mr Orban's government introduced a new constitution to replace the one drafted in 1989, when Hungary was emerging from 40 years of communist rule. Mr Orban insists that a new constitution was necessary in order to complete the work of eradicating the legacy of communism, but critics point out that some of the checks and balances that are essential for the functioning of a democracy have been removed, and that the state apparatus is now permanently tilted in favour of the current ruling party.

The Fidesz government has also been criticised for its failure to combat right-wing extremism and hate speech, after little was done to prevent members of the far-right Jobbik party from making inflammatory anti-Roma and anti-Jewish comments.

The next parliamentary election, scheduled for 6 April 2014, is widely being seen as a test of the extent to which the Hungarian electorate approves of Mr Orban's populist policies, or whether charges of the erosion of democracy and an increasingly polarised society under Fidesz will play to the advantage of the left-of-centre opposition.

Iceland

Mr Gunnlaugsson became prime minister in May 2013 following elections in April in which his centre-right Progressive Party and the conservative Independence Party of Bjarni Benediktsson both won 19 seats in the 63-seat parliament or Althing.

The two parties formed a coalition after the election, taking over power from the Social Democrats, who suffered the worst defeat of any ruling party since Iceland gained independence from Denmark in 1944.

An Oxford-educated former journalist, Mr Gunnlaugsson belongs to a new breed of politicians who emerged after Iceland's 2008 financial crisis, and his elevation to the premiership marks a generational shift in the Icelandic government. His predecessor, Johanna Sigurdardottir, was 70 at the time of the election, while Mr Gunnlaugsson, aged 38 when he took office, became one of the youngest serving heads of government in the world.

The Progressive-Independence centre-right coalition came to power five years after the spectacular banking collapse of 2008 plunged Iceland into crisis and brought down the Independence Party-led government of Geir Haarde.

Although Ms Sigurdardottir's Social Democrat government, which took over in 2009, had succeeded in stabilising the economy and returning Iceland to modest growth, many Icelanders continued to suffer the after-effects of the crisis. Real wages are still far below their pre-crisis levels, and household debt remains crippling.

Iceland applied to join the EU in 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the banking collapse, when bloc membership was seen by many as offering the country a way out of its economic woes. However, the subsequent economic turbulence in the rest of Europe led many Icelanders to question the benefits of EU membership.

Fishing is one of the island nation's biggest resources, and a majority of the population is opposed to the introduction of the EU's common policies on fishing.

Mr Gunnlaugsson is an EU sceptic who believes that Iceland has little to gain in joining the bloc. Even before being sworn in as prime minister, he said that the coalition would freeze the already stalled talks on Iceland's EU membership and would hold a referendum on the issue.

Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson became the leader of the Progressive Party in January 2009 and was elected to the Althing in the 2009 parliamentary election.

Iraq

Nouri al-Maliki, a former rebel who led the first full-time government after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, was picked for a second term as prime minister in November 2010.

He was chosen by parliament under a power-sharing agreement after the inconclusive elections of March 2010. Mr al-Maliki's Shia-backed State of Law coalition came second in the poll, after the Sunni Al-Iraqiya alliance of former premier Iyad Allawi.

The national unity government that was approved by parliament in December 2010 included all major factions. It has proved to be fragile and riven by tensions between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish blocs.

At the end of 2011, there were fears of renewed sectarian conflict as the government looked like it might collapse. An arrest warrant was issued for the Sunni deputy vice president, Tareq al-Hashimi, over alleged links to terrorism - accusations which he denied.

Observers said it appeared that Mr al-Maliki was trying to consolidate his grip on power by pushing out top Sunni politicians.

Born in 1950, Mr al-Maliki fled a death sentence for his political activism in 1980 and lived in exile in Syria and Iran, working for the opposition Shia Islamic Dawa Party.

He returned to Iraq after the US-led invasion of 2003 and became a member of the de-Baathification commission that removed Saddam supporters from public office.

He was relatively unknown internationally until he was nominated for the premiership in May 2006, after the Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties objected to the reappointment of prime minister Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari.

He struggled to control a fractious government forged of fragile alliances and his first two years in office were marked by rampant bloodshed. He emerged stronger after sending the army to fight Shia militia and presiding over a sharp fall in overall violence, but a resurgence of Sunni extremist attacks on Shias and Christians made 2013 the bloodiest year since 2007.

Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party, became prime minister after an inconclusive early election in February 2009, a decade after holding the office once before.

The outgoing administration, led by the centrist Kadima party, failed to reassemble as a new centre-left coalition, and Mr Netanyahu was able to form a government with the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, various Jewish religious parties and the centre-left Labour party. He later united Yisrael Beinteinu with Likud in an attempt to form a broad conservative party.

This government managed to steer Israel out of the global economic recession, but faced mounting protests about the rising cost of living.

It also failed to make any headway in relations with the Palestinians, Jewish settlers on the West Bank and the Obama administration in the United States.

During the election Mr Netanyahu had pledged not to transfer land occupied by Israel to a Palestinian state in return for peace, on the grounds that previous Israeli withdrawals had only met with further Palestinian armed attacks.

Several months later he angered settlers by accepting the creation of Palestinian state, but his conditions, including its complete demilitarisation. were unacceptable to Palestinian leaders.

The prime minister's refusal to concede a full suspension of settlement activity - a key Palestinian condition for a return to stalled peace talks - frustrated the United States, and a partial suspension of permits for new settlements in 2009-2010 only served to spark angry protests by settlers.

Mr Netanyahu's repeated warnings over the perceived threat of Iran's nuclear programme have also complicated relations with the US.

A coalition dispute over the budget prompted Mr Netanyahu to call an early election in January 2013, which saw a boost for two new secular parties - Yesh Atid in the centre and the pro-settler Jewish Home - in a campaign fought mainly on economic issues.

After months of wrangling the prime minister managed to assemble a coalition with these two parties, plus a small splinter group from Kadima, that excluded the Jewish religious parties and raised the possibility of one of Israel's periodic attempts at rolling back the influence of ultra-Orthodox groups.

During his previous term as prime minister in 1996-99 Mr Netanyahu was initially hostile towards the new Palestinian Authority, but went on to show some flexibility while maintaining a security-first policy.

Defeated by Labour leader Ehud Barak in 1999, he later served as finance minister under Likud PM Ariel Sharon, pushing through a series of market-oriented reforms before resigning in 2005 in protest at Mr Sharon's decision to pull out from Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu was born in 1949 in Tel Aviv, and spent part of his childhood in the United States where his father was a professor . During his five years in Israel's army, he served as captain of an elite commando unit. A fluent English-speaker, Mr Netanyahu has long been a prominent advocate for Israel in the international media.

Jamaica

The opposition People's National Party (PNP), led by Portia Simpson-Miller, won a closely-fought general election in December 2011 by a wide margin.

The snap poll was called by the incumbent leader, Andrew Holness from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), who was seeking a new mandate after replacing Bruce Golding as party leader in October.

Jamaica's deep economic problems dominated the election. Mrs Simpson-Miller has vowed to appeal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to extend the period Jamaica has to repay its loans.

On taking up office in January 2012, she said she intended to make Jamaica a republic, and that 50 years after the country gained its independence from Britain, the time had come for it to break with the British monarchy and have its own president.

Portia Simpson-Miller was Jamaica's first female prime minister in 2006, but was narrowly defeated in elections in 2007, when Golding led the JLP to victory and ended 18 years of PNP rule.

A political veteran, Mrs Simpson-Miller is known for her plain-spoken style and portrays herself as a champion of the poor. She was born in rural poverty and grew up in a Kingston ghetto.

Japan

Shinzo Abe became Japan's prime minister for the second time in December 2012, after his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) scored a landslide election win.

He previously served a brief term as premier in 2006-7, when he was Japan's youngest leader since World War II.

He began his first term in office with a high approval rating, but a series of scandals and gaffes damaged the government, and with support for his administration plummeting, Mr Abe stepped down, citing ill health.

The centre-left Democratic Party (DPJ) came to power in August 2009 - having also won a landslide election - but quickly lost popularity as a result of a mounting financial crisis. The DPJ government also struggled to cope with the aftermath of the March 2011 tsunami, and was in its turn beset by a series of scandals.

By the autumn of 2012, faced with a "fiscal cliff" brought on by the country's public debt mountain - the highest debt to GDP ratio in the industrialised world - and the crippling after-effects of the nuclear crisis triggered by the tsunami, the DPJ had no choice but to call an early election.

On returning to the premiership in 2012, Mr Abe acknowledged the widely held perception that the LDP's sweeping victory owed a lot to anger at DPJ failures, and was not necessarily a statement of confidence in the conservative party that had previously ruled Japan almost continuously for half a century.

Known as a right-wing hawk, Mr Abe comes from a high-profile political family. His father was a former foreign minister, while his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, was arrested as a suspected war criminal after World War II but never charged.

Shinzo Abe won his first seat in parliament in 1993 and was appointed to the cabinet for the first time in October 2005, when he was given the important role of chief cabinet secretary.

During his first premiership, he showed himself to be an outspoken populist, pushing for a more assertive foreign policy and a greater role for Japan on the world stage.

Under his administration, a bill was passed setting out steps for holding a referendum on revising the country's pacifist constitution.

He also called for a greater sense of national pride and backed a law requiring the teaching of patriotism in schools.

He provoked anger in China and South Korea when he said there was no evidence that women were forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese army during World War II. He later apologised for these remarks.

After standing down from the premiership in September 2007, he temporarily disappeared from the political spotlight. He returned to the political stage in September 2012 with his election as LDP leader, and soon expressed strong views on the ongoing territorial rows with China and South Korea.

The main challenge that he faces is the state of the economy. His decision to weaken the yen seemed to reap dividends when exports rose 10.1% in May 2013 - the fastest annual rate since 2010.

He went on to win control of the upper house of parliament in July, seeing this as an endorsement of his economic and foreign policy.

Jordan

Reformist Abdullah Ensour was sworn in as head of a new government on 30 March, only months after offering his resignation following parliamentary elections in January 2013.

Mr Ensour, a former minister and vocal advocate of democratic reform, was re-nominated by the king following extensive consultation with parliament. Previously, MPs played no role in the process.

However, the main opposition Islamic Action Front said the exercise was largely cosmetic.

Observers said the new cabinet's main task will be to cut government spending in order to deal with Jordan's growing budget deficit and financial crisis.

In a first cost-cutting effort, the cabinet was shrunk to its smallest size in four decades.

Pro-government candidates swept to victory in the January poll, which was billed as key to pushing forward King Abdullah's reform programme but was boycotted by the Islamic Action Front.

Mr Ensour said the election was a stepping stone on the path of "more vigorous, serious" reforms.

The Islamic Action Front and other smaller parties boycotted the poll to protest an election law they saw as biased in favour of the king's supporters.

King Abdullah surprised observers when he first appointed Mr Ensour as prime minister in October 2012, shortly after dissolving parliament.

Mr Ensour, an independent MP, had good connections both to the Royal Court and to opposition groups, including the Islamic Action Front and the powerful trade unions.

Latvia

Laimdota Straujuma became Latvia's first female prime minister in January 2014 following the resignation of Valdis Dombrovskis, who stepped down in November 2013 saying that he assumed political responsibility for a supermarket roof collapse in the capital Riga that killed dozens.

Ms Straujuma's name was put forward for the premiership after President Berzins had already turned down several other candidates proposed by the parties in the governing centre-right coalition.

The technocratic Ms Straujuma was already serving in the government in a non-party capacity as agriculture minister - a key post in a country with a strong farmers' lobby.

She was nominated for the post of prime minister by Mr Dombrovskis' conservative Unity Party, and joined the party early in January in order to be its official nominee.

She now presides over a broad coalition consisting of the three parties that were in government under Mr Dombrovskis - Unity, plus the Reform Party and the National Alliance - plus the Union of Farmers and Greens (ZZS).

Ms Straujuma has vowed to continue Mr Dombrovskis' austerity-oriented economic policies in the run-up to the October 2014 general election.

Her predecessor pushed through some of the toughest austerity measures in Europe in an effort to rescue the state from bankruptcy and prepare Latvia to join the euro by 2014.

Having fallen into a severe recession in 2008-9, during the global financial crisis, the Latvian economy went on to make a strong recovery and by 2013 was the fastest-growing economy in the EU.

The measures adopted in order to prepare the country for eurozone membership meant that a majority of the austerity-weary nation was at first opposed to the changeover, but in the weeks following the adoption of the common currency, support for the euro rose to 53% - close to the EU average.

Born in 1951, Ms Straujuma trained as an economist and went on to specialise in agricultural economics. She became a senior civil servant in the Latvian Ministry of Agriculture in 1999 and was made minister in 2011.

Lebanon

Najib Mikati took five months to form a cabinet dominated by Hezbollah and its allies in the summer of 2011.

The powerful Shia group had toppled the pro-western coalition led by Saad Hariri at the beginning of the year after he refused to end co-operation with the UN tribunal investigating the assassination of his father, Rafik. Hezbollah members have reportedly been implicated in the killing.

A Sunni Muslim, Mr Mikati tried to present a non-partisan face to key powerbrokers like Saudi Arabia, but the opposition Future bloc derided him as a figleaf for Hezbollah rule.

The 55-year-old telecoms tycoon first entered politics in 1998, and briefly headed an interim government that tried to counterbalance Syrian and Hezbollah influence in 2005.

His government faced serious challenges in late 2012 from the Future bloc, which accused him of failing to prevent Syrian interference in Lebanon, in particular the assassination of Intelligence Chief Wissam al-Hassan.

  • In March 2013 Mr Mikati resigned after his divided cabinet was unable to agree on how elections, due to be held later in the year, should be staged. Pending the formation of a new government, Mr Mikati continues to serve as prime minister in a caretaker capacity.
  • In April 2013 the Sunni Muslim politician Tamam Salam received the backing of parties across the political spectrum to form a new government. Mr Salam is an independent member of the Lebanese parliament and is regarded as a moderate.
  • In May 2013, parliament voted to put off elections until November 2014 because of security concerns.
Lesotho

Thomas Thabane heads a coalition government which ousted his predecessor after elections in May 2012.

Mr Thabane's All Basotho Convention, the largest opposition party, teamed up with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy and the Basotho National Party (BNP) to share power and oust the unpopular Pakalitha Mosisili, who had been in power for 14 years.

Mr Mosisili's Democratic Congress party won the most seats, but fell short of the required majority to govern alone.

Mr Mosisili had been in power since 1998, when post-poll wrangling led to weeks of unrest that ultimately triggered military intervention by neighbouring South Africa and Botswana to restore order.

Since independence from Britain in 1966, Lesotho has undergone several military coups.

Liechtenstein

Adrian Hasler of the centre-right Progressive Citizens Party (PCP) took office in March 2013, after his party came first in the February general election, winning 10 seats in the 25-seat parliament.

Mr Hasler succeeded Klaus Tschuetscher, who had held the post since March 2009. Mr Tschuetscher's conservative Patriotic Union (PU) gained an absolute majority in parliament in the 2009 election, but the party slipped down to second place in 2013, winning only eight seats in parliament.

Both the two main parties lost support to a new political grouping, The Independents (DU), which came out of nowhere to take 15% of the national vote in the 2013 election. The Independents won four seats, with the result that the chamber for the first time in its history houses four parties.

Trailing in fourth place is the leftist-green Free List, which gained three seats.

An economist by training, Adrian Hasler first entered parliament in 2001 as a PCP member. He resigned his seat in March 2004 in order to become the head of Liechtenstein's national police force.

He has vowed to reduce the country's budget deficit by cutting back on public spending.

Malaysia

Najib Razak assumed the post of prime minister following the resignation of his predecessor in 2009, and was sworn in for a second term after his coalition won elections in May 2013.

The long-governing National Front coalition won the 2013 national elections with a weakened majority to extend its unbroken, 56-year rule, fending off the strongest opposition it had ever faced.

The opposition alleged the biggest electoral fraud in the country's history.

The son of the country's second prime minister and nephew of the third, Mr Najib is regarded by many Malaysians as political blue blood and seems to have been destined for the premiership from an early age.

A British-trained economist, he first entered parliament at the age of 23 - becoming the youngest MP in Malaysian history - and quickly rose to prominence.

He held numerous cabinet posts - including finance and defence - before becoming prime minister.

He took over the premiership at a turbulent time, and faces the enormous challenge of steering the country through the global financial crisis, which has hit the economy hard.

Mr Najib pledged radical reforms and a more transparent government. He said that one of his priorities would be to close a widening ethnic and religious divide, after Malaysia's ethnic minorities shifted towards the opposition in large numbers in the 2008 polls, fearing their rights were being eroded.

But his rise to power was marked by a government crackdown on the resurgent opposition, with allegations that strong-arm tactics were being used to stifle political dissent.

In July 2011, a demonstration in the capital Kuala Lumpur calling for electoral reform was forcibly broken up by the police.

However, the following month Mr Najib announced that a cross-party parliamentary committee would look into ways of making the voting process more democratic.

Mauritius

Former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam of the Social Alliance returned to power after defeating Paul Berenger of the Mauritian Militant Movement in elections in July 2005.

The ruling alliance, which included Mr Ramgoolam's Labour Party and the Militant Socialist Movement, was re-elected in a closely fought vote in 2010, defeating the Mauritian Militant Movement led by Mr Berenger.

Both main blocs campaigned on a promise of strengthening the welfare state and social justice.

Born in 1947, Mr Ramgoolam is the son of Mauritius's independence leader Seewoosagur Ramgoolam.

He served as prime minister between 1995 and 2000. He is a doctor and lawyer.

His predecessor Paul Berenger, a white Mauritian of French descent, became the island's first non-Hindu prime minister in 2003.

The ruling coalition shrank in August 2011 when the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) leader Pravind Jugnauth said his party was now in opposition. Six ministers from the party had quit in protest against the arrest of the health minister by an anti-corruption watchdog.

Moldova

Iurie Leanca was appointed acting prime minister in April 2013 after parliament passed a motion of no confidence in the government.

He was subsequently approved as prime minister by parliament in May 2013.

Before being appointed to government, Leanca spent his working life in various posts in the foreign ministry.

Montenegro

Milo Djukanovic began his seventh term of office as Montenegro's prime minister in December 2012, seven weeks after his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) emerged as the main party in parliamentary elections but failed to gain an outright majority for the first time in 11 years.

Mr Djukanovic formed a coalition government with the Social Democrats and representatives of Montenegro's ethnic minorities, and on being inaugurated as prime minister pledged to focus his efforts on fighting organised crime and corruption.

After Croatia, Montenegro is the next of the former republics of Yugoslavia in line to join the European Union, but will have to do more to root out endemic corruption and organised crime if it is to make any progress towards EU membership.

Milo Djukanovic has dominated Montenegrin politics ever since 1991, when he first became prime minister. He was the country's president in 1998-2002, and took further short breaks from the premiership in 2006-8 and 2010-12.

He led Montenegro through the turmoil of the 1990s Balkan wars and spearheaded the postwar quest for independence from Serbia, which was finalized in a referendum in 2006.

The first time that he temporarily stepped down from the premiership was soon after the independence referendum. The second time was in December 2010, when he said that he had achieved his aim of bringing Montenegro closer to EU and NATO membership.

He insisted that his 2010 resignation was not related to international pressure over his alleged involvement in cigarette smuggling. Accusations of crime and corruption have dogged Montenegro's ruling elite since the collapse of Yugoslavia, when the republic became a hub for large-scale tobacco trafficking.

Between 2010 and 2012, Mr Djukanovic remained at the helm of the DPS, while Igor Luksic, a close ally and protege, took over the premiership.

Morocco

Abdelilah Benkirane's moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) emerged as the biggest party in parliamentary elections in November 2011, and in accordance with Morocco's new constitution, introduced in July 2011, King Mohammed was obliged to choose a prime minister from the party that won the most seats.

Mr Benkirane leads a broad coalition, in which his party holds the top positions but governs in tandem with conservative monarchists, liberals, socialists and former communists. One of the coalition partners, the Istiqlal party, resigned in July 2013, prompting a political crisis. A new power-sharing deal was forged months later with the centre-right National Rally of Independents.

The PJD gained power for the first time in 2011 and is the first Islamist party to run Morocco, the Arab world's oldest monarchy.

Several cabinet posts, including that of religious affairs, have been directly appointed by the palace.

Morocco is beset by soaring unemployment and the rising prices of basic commodities, and the new prime minister promised that the government's focus would be on creating jobs and tackling corruption. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Casablanca in a trade-union rally to protest at the government's lack of progress on these issues.

Mr Benkirane, who was elected head of the PJD in 2008, leads its more pro-monarchy faction and has stated his support for a strong king.

Born in Rabat, he trained as a teacher and went on to set up a private school. After an early flirtation with socialism, he joined an Islamic youth group in his early twenties. He is married and has six children.

Netherlands

Mark Rutte won a second term in October 2012 when his liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) formed a coalition with the centre-left Labour Party after narrowly beating it in parliamentary elections.

The VVD won 41 seats in the 150-member lower house - a lead of just two seats over Labour - in the September vote.

Mr Rutte's previous cabinet - a minority coalition with the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal - had collapsed after only two years in office.

It resigned in April 2012 when populist politician Geert Wilders' eurosceptic, anti-immigration Freedom Party, which had been propping up the government without joining it, refused to back a tough austerity package.

The cuts were intended to comply with EU deficit targets.

Mark Rutte's new cabinet was seen as more pro-austerity and pro-EU than his last one.

The new coalition warned that tough measures would be needed to weather the financial crisis and secure the Netherlands' economic future.

The Freedom Party, which had held the balance of power in the previous parliament, suffered heavy losses in the September 2012 poll and came a distant third, tying with the left-wing Socialist Party.

New Zealand

John Key led the centre-right National Party to victory in the November 2008 general election and again in the November 2011 elections.

His party's 2008 victory ended nine years of Labour-led government.

The National Party fell short of a parliamentary majority in both the 2008 and 2011 elections and was compelled to form a coalition with other parties.

Born in 1961 and brought up in relative poverty by his Austrian-Jewish immigrant mother after the early death of his father, Mr Key became a currency trader and has acquired a substantial personal fortune.

He rose to be head of foreign exchange at Merrill Lynch in Singapore, and served as a member of the Foreign Exchange Committee of the New York Federal Reserve Bank in 1999-2001.

National Party president John Slater encouraged him to enter politics in 2001, and Mr Key was elected to parliament the following year. He was appointed opposition finance spokesman in 2004, and became party leader in 2006 after Don Brash resigned over allegations of election-funding irregularities.

Since taking over the party, Mr Key has positioned it more on the centre ground. His first speech as leader pledged a future government to measures to prevent the creation of an "underclass", and he has said that reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in the next 50 years will be a priority.

New Zealand has a single-chamber parliament, the House of Representatives, which is elected for a three-year term. Coalition governments have been the norm since proportional representation replaced the "first past the post" electoral system in 1993.

Niue

Toke Talagi was elected in June 2008 to a serve a three-year term. He gained the backing of parliament for another term in May 2011.

Mr Talagi had previously served in the roles of deputy premier and finance minister. He is also president of the Niue Rugby Union.

Toke Talagi was chair of the regional inter-governmental organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum, from 2008 to 2009.

Norway

Erna Solberg heads a right-wing minority coalition government assembled following elections in September 2013.

Her government rules in a minority after failing to win over several small centrist parties. But minority governments are common in Nordic countries and her Conservative Party has enlisted the formal outside backing of the Liberals and the Christian Democrats to ensure stability.

Ms Solberg, Norway's second female prime minister, appointed women to half of the cabinet posts, in line with an unwritten rule about gender equality.

Nicknamed "Iron Erna" for her tough stance as local government minister in charge of asylum and regional development in 2001-2005, Ms Solberg took over leadership of the Conservative Party in 2004 and steered it to third place in the 2009 elections.

Her government has promised to lower taxes, reduce the economy's reliance on the vast oil sector, invest heavily in infrastructure and curtail immigration.

One of her coalition partners is the populist Progress Party, which entered the government for the first time after having been in opposition ever since its formation 40 years previously.

The Progress Party is in favour of tighter immigration controls and sweeping tax cuts.

Papua New Guinea

Parliament endorsed Peter O'Neill as prime minister in August 2012, finally drawing the line under a prolonged power struggle with his rival Sir Michael Somare, the founding father of independent Papua New Guinea.

Prior to national elections in June 2012, both men had declared themselves to be the rightful prime minister.

Mr O'Neill was first chosen by parliament to be acting Prime Minister in August 2011 after Sir Michael, who had by then been absent from the house for several months due to illness, was declared to be no longer eligible.

Sir Michael subsequently challenged this decision and the rivalry between the two men developed into a standoff between lawmakers, the overwhelming majority of whom continued to back Mr O'Neill, and the Supreme Court, which ruled that Mr O'Neill's election was illegal and that Sir Michael should be reinstated.

After Transparency International ranked Papua New Guinea one of the most corrupt countries in the world in 2012, Mr O'Neill declared that his government's priority would be to crack down on corruption.

One of his first acts after being sworn in as prime minister in August 2012 was to approve the formation of a new anti-corruption task force as part of efforts to win the confidence of potential foreign investors.

Born in the Southern Highlands Province in 1965, Mr O'Neill was a businessman before being elected to parliament in 2002. Two years later, he became leader of the opposition before crossing the floor in 2007 to join Sir Michael Somare's government as finance, treasury and works minister.

Portugal

Mr Passos Coelho heads a centre-right coalition government formed in June 2011 and charged with steering the country out of financial crisis.

His Social Democratic Party won parliamentary elections, but as it failed to gain sufficient seats to govern alone it teamed up with the Popular Party.

His government was compelled to implement austerity measures and economic reforms in return for a rescue package.

On taking office Mr Passos Coelho said that his new government considered bringing the country's public finances under control to be an "urgent imperative".

He said government objectives would be carried out "in conformity" with the bailout agreement signed with the European Union and IMF. Under the deal the country was obliged to cut the budget deficit to 5.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 from 9.1 percent in 2010.

The government pushed through several tough packages of public spending cuts, but backed down on a social security tax rise when the proposed increase triggered mass street protests in September 2012.

Mr Passos Coelho made progress in reducing the deficit, but faced renewed tension within his coalition in the summer of 2013, with the Popular Party unhappy with the intensity of austerity measures.

The debt crisis in Portugal, alongside the crisis in Ireland and the most serious crisis in Greece, has given rise to deep concerns over the resilience of the European Union's economy.

Republic of Macedonia

Nikola Gruevski, leader of the centre-right VMRO-DPMNE, won a snap election in June 2011 - the party's third consecutive electoral victory.

The early election followed an opposition walkout in Parliament, sparked by allegations that the government was interfering in the media.

Following the 2011 election, Mr Gruevski formed a coalition government with Macedonia's largest Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which had been his coalition partner since the previous election.

Mr Gruevski said his priorities would be accession to the EU and Nato, fighting corruption and organised crime, boosting the economy and lowering unemployment.

He said he was willing to continue political dialogue with Greece over the use of the name Macedonia. But this cause has not been helped by his party's nationalistic policy of "ancient Macedonism" or "Antiquisation", in which ancient figures such as Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedon are claimed to be the forebears of modern Macedonians.

Mr Gruevski first become prime minister after the July 2006 election, and his party went on to win early elections in 2008.

The prime minister is a former World Bank economist and finance minister.

Romania

Victor Ponta became Romania's third prime minister in less than six months when his left wing-dominated Social Liberal Union (USL) alliance took charge in May 2012 after toppling its predecessor in a confidence vote.

Mr Ponta's party, which came to power by capitalising on mounting discontent over austerity policies, won a landslide victory at parliamentary elections in December 2012.

The USL won nearly 60% of the vote, against 17% for the coalition of parties backed by President Basescu, who had threatened to use his power as president to nominate the prime minister to block Mr Ponta's return to office.

Mr Ponta has proved popular with Romanians, but he has faced criticism from some abroad who accuse him of disregard for democratic norms and the rule of law.

In his very first months in office, he courted controversy by launching a campaign to impeach President Basescu in the midst of the economic crisis, having already ousted the heads of both houses of parliament and the ombudsman. Senior European politicians and officials have criticised these steps, which threaten to isolate Romania within the European Union.

Mr Ponta also faces accusations - which he denies - that he plagiarised part of his doctoral thesis.

On coming to power, Mr Ponta promised to stick to a deal with international lenders while seeking to "correct social imbalances". Romania obtained a 20-billion-euro ($26-billion) rescue package from the IMF, the EU and the World Bank in 2009, in exchange for steps to cut public spending, which helped it emerge from recession.

In October 2013 his government faced further scandal when his deputy, Liviu Dragnea, was charged along with 74 other people with trying to rig the 2012 referendum that failed to oust President Basescu.

Mr Ponta replaced Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu, who in February 2012 succeeded Emil Boc, who in turn had resigned amid violent protests at his government's drastic public-spending cuts.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Denzil Douglas, who became prime minister in 1995, won a fourth consecutive term in office in January 2010.

Douglas, a physician, called the elections early and led a campaign touting efforts to boost the islands' small economy, build roads and hospitals and continue paying the national debt despite the global economic crisis.

His St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) won six of the 11 seats in the National Assembly.

Mr Douglas has been credited with promoting tourism and combating crime, but his government failed to rejuvenate the ailing sugar industry, which the government decided to shut down in 2005.

The prime minister has said any differences between Nevis and St Kitts should be tackled by constitutional reform, rather than by a referendum on secession.

Born in 1953, he became leader of the St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party in 1989. A Labour Party activist since his youth, he led the party to victory in the 1995 elections.

Saint Lucia

Kenny Anthony, the leader of the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP), took office in December 2011 following a general election at which his party won a majority of the 17 seats in parliament.

At his swearing-in, 60-year-old Mr Anthony warned St Lucians of a "difficult and challenging" road ahead and said no single political party could manage the island's affairs alone.

He pledged to boost the economy, reduce crime and improve the prospects for young people.

His predecessor, Stephenson King from the United Workers Party (UWP), became prime minister in September 2007 following the death of veteran leader Sir John Compton.

Kenny Anthony served as prime minister between 1997 and 2006.

Samoa

Prime Minister Tuila'epa's ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) gained a landslide victory in parliamentary polls in March 2011, heralding a fourth term for the premier.

The HRPP won 36 seats out of the 49 available in the Samoan parliament, the Fono. The opposition Tautua Samoa Party (TSP), contesting an election for the first time since its formation in 2008, won the remaining 13 seats.

Mr Tuila'epa won his seat unopposed, despite criticism over the government's handling of a deadly tsunami that struck the country in 2009. However, three of his cabinet ministers lost their seats in the election.

He first became prime minister in 1998 when his predecessor, Tofilau Eti Alesana, resigned on health grounds after 16 years in the job.

Born in 1945 and an economist by training, Mr Tuila'epa was educated in Samoa and New Zealand, where he gained a master's degree - the first Samoan to do so.

In 1978 he moved to Brussels to work for the European Economic Community. He entered the Fono two years later, while simultaneously working as a partner in the accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand.

All but two of the seats in the Fono are reserved for ethnic Samoans and only the heads of extended families, known as "matai", may stand for election to them. The Fono selects the prime minister.

Sao Tome and Principe

Gabriel Arcanjo Ferreira da Costa was appointed prime minister after the president dismissed Patrice Trovoada and his government in December 2012 following a no-confidence vote.

The assembly's second party MLSTP/PSD had nominated Mr Ferreira da Costa, a consensus builder from a political group without parliamentary representation.

Mr Ferreira da Costa had already briefly served as prime minister in 2002, a job held by 15 different people since 1990 and the installation of democracy.

Serbia

Socialist Party leader Ivica Dacic formed a coalition government with the nationalist Progressive Party of President Nikolic in July 2012, ending an unlikely cohabitation with the pro-European-Union Democratic Party.

A Kosovo-born protege of the late Slobodan Milosevic, on becoming leader of the Socialist Party Mr Dacic abandoned the more extreme nationalist policies pursued by his predecessor and after the 2012 election declared that he would continue the pro-EU stance of the previous government.

However, he faced a difficult task in balancing his commitment to joining the EU with his supporters' reluctance to brook any compromise on the status of Kosovo.

A significant step forward regarding the Kosovo issue was made in April 2013, when Mr Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci signed an EU-brokered deal on normalising ties between Belgrade and Pristina. Following the Serbian parliament's approval of this deal, the European Commission gave the green light for the opening of Serbia's EU membership talks.

Following the formal opening of EU accession talks in January 2014, the Progressive Party - which was keen to capitalise on its growing popularity as a result of Serbia's progress towards EU membership - lobbied for early general elections to be held in March.

Opinion polls in January showed Mr Dacic's Socialist Party - the junior party in the governing coalition - to be trailing well behind the Progressive Party led by Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

On becoming prime minister, Mr Dacic declared that his government's main priority would be to stimulate economic recovery. He also vowed to clamp down on crime and corruption, and under his administration several former ministers and tycoons have been arrested as part of the fight against graft and organised crime.

In late 2013, his government unveiled a tough package of austerity measures, including plans to cut public sector wages, slash subsidies to loss-making companies and raise taxes.

Announcing the measures, Finance Minister Lazar Krstic said Serbia would be bankrupt within two years if it did not take action now.

Singapore

The elder son of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Loong took office in August 2004, without an election, as part of a planned handover of power.

He vowed to continue the policy of opening up Singapore's society.

Mr Lee won re-election with typically large PAP majorities in 2006 and 2011. However, the opposition made some significant gains in 2011, spurred by voter concern about income inequality and immigration.

The prime minister said the election marked a "shift in the political landscape", and said his party would undergo "soul-searching".

A former army officer, Mr Lee followed his father into politics at the age of 32, becoming deputy prime minister in 1990.

As finance minister in his predecessor's cabinet, he was credited with helping to secure Singapore's competitive edge amid growing competition from China.

Mr Lee's father, who oversaw the transformation of Singapore into an economic power, served as the cabinet's official mentor between 2004 and 2011, when he said it was time to make way for a younger generation.

Slovakia

Mr Fico's leftist Smer party won a landslide victory in early general elections in March 2012 - the first time since independence that a party had gained an absolute majority in the Slovak parliament.

The centre-right coalition of Iveta Radicova, which had governed since June 2010, was routed in a poll dominated by a corruption scandal that engulfed its main parties.

Known as a straight-talking populist, Robert Fico was born to a working-class family in the provincial town of Topolcany in 1964 and trained as a lawyer in Communist Czechoslovakia.

He became a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1987, and after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 joined the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) - a successor of the Communist Party of Slovakia.

In 1999 he founded his own party, Direction-Social Democracy (Smer), when it became clear that the SDL was a spent force.

He raised his public profile by sharply criticising the radical economic reform programme implemented by the centre-right governments of Mikulas Dzurinda (1998-2006), which although hailed by investors and international financial institutions was not popular with ordinary Slovaks.

Mr Dzurinda's policies were seen as having stimulated growth - earning Slovakia the nickname of "the central European tiger" - but were associated with high levels of unemployment and were seen as having a disproportionately negative effect on low wage-earners and welfare recipients.

During the 2006 election campaign, Smer strove to project itself as a modern, socialist and pro-European party, but found it hard to maintain this image after it had formed a government in coalition with various ultra-nationalist and populist parties who were also opposed to Mr Dzurinda's policies.

Mr Fico led Slovakia into the eurozone during his first stint as prime minister in 2006-2010, but his government's record of deteriorating relations with the country's Hungarian minority also tarnished its reputation in the eyes of the EU.

Smer emerged as the largest grouping in the 2010 general election, but was unable to form a government and was ousted by a centre-right coalition led by Iveta Radicova, Slovakia's first female prime minister.

Ms Radicova's government collapsed in October 2011 in a dispute between the coalition partners over whether Slovakia should support an expanded eurozone bailout fund, and the corruption scandal that broke in December completed public disillusionment with the ruling coalition.

Mr Fico made defending the eurozone and boosting social welfare two of the main planks of his 2012 election campaign. He has promised to introduce higher taxes for the rich, but has also pledged to stick with the previous government's policy of reducing the deficit.

Slovenia

Opposition leader Alenka Bratusek took over as prime minister when Janez Jansa's year-old centre-right coalition collapsed in disputes over austerity measures and corruption allegations in February-March 2013.

She only entered parliament in 2011 after a career in the finance ministry, and took over leadership of the social liberal Positive Slovenia party on an acting basis in January 2013 after leader Zoran Jankovic stepped down - also over corruption allegations.

Ms Bratusek has criticised the austerity policy of her predecessor, saying her priority will be "growth and jobs", but she may have little choice but to implement public spending cuts given the country's financial fragility.

On taking office, she dismissed speculation that Slovenia, which was struggling with a banking crisis, might be the next eurozone country after Cyprus to need a bailout.

Political observers in Slovenia say the chances of the coalition lasting until 2015 are slim, making early elections highly likely.

Solomon Islands

Parliament elected Gordon Darcy Lilo prime minister on 16 November 2011, only days after his predecessor, Danny Philip, sacked him from the post of finance minister.

Mr Philip subsequently resigned when several MPs deserted his government in response to Mr Lilo's dismissal, leaving it without a majority in the 50-seat parliament. Mr Lilo won the backing of 29 MPs.

Several hundred protesters gathered to protest against Mr Lilo's election, hurling rocks at police and vehicles before being dispersed by riot police.

Born in 1965, Mr Lilo was first elected to parliament in 2001 and was a government minister from 2007. His constituency lies in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands.

His predecessor, Danny Philip, was elected prime minister after weeks of horse trading that followed a general election on 4 August 2010.

The 2010 vote was generally peaceful, with no repeat of the post-election riots of 2006.

Politics in the Solomon Islands is fluid, with no deep-rooted party-political system.

Spain

Mariano Rajoy became prime minister in December 2011 after his conservative Popular Party won a resounding victory in parliamentary elections.

The election campaign was dominated by Spain's deep debt crisis and sky-high unemployment, and the governing Socialists' defeat was widely expected.

Mr Rajoy, who has long been known as a cautious public administrator, warned the Spanish people that there is no miracle cure to restore the country to economic health.

The son of a lawyer, Mariano Rajoy grew up in a socially conservative Catholic environment, studied law and began his career as a land registrar.

He became a regional deputy for the Popular Party at the age of 26 and rose steadily through the party ranks.

He held a number of ministerial positions in the governments of Jose Maria Aznar from 1996 to 2004, and was rewarded for his loyalty and discipline when Mr Aznar chose him as his successor as party leader.

As leader of the opposition after the 2004 election, Mr Rajoy struggled to rebuild the party's fortunes.

His staying power finally paid dividends when the global economic downturn destroyed public faith in the Socialists' ability to steer the country through a period of deep crisis.

In office he has nonetheless struggled to impose financial discipline, and had to turn to the European Union to bail out the banking sector in June 2012.

He has pledged to cut government spending by 16.5bn euros (£13.7bn, $21.5bn) and to reduce the public deficit to 6.5% by the end of 2013 - a target that the IMF deems realistic after the failure of an over-ambitious plan to cut it to 4.4% in 2012.

In addition, he faces a serious move towards independence by Catalonia, Spain's wealthiest region, and allegations of links to the case of Luis Barcenas, an ex-treasurer of the Popular Party and suspect in a payments scandal.

Sweden

The Alliance for Sweden, a centre-right coalition headed by Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt, came to power at elections in September 2006, ending 10 years of rule by the Social Democrat Party.

Governing with a slim seven-seat majority in its first term, Mr Reinfeldt's government cut income taxes, trimmed benefits and sold off state assets.

Buoyed by Sweden's rapid economic recovery from the 2008 , Mr Reinfeldt looked assured to win a second term ahead of elections in 2010 and become the first centre-right PM to be re-elected since World War II.

However, his Alliance for Sweden fell short of an overall majority by two seats, and Mr Reinfeldt formed a minority coalition government. The anti-immigration Swedish Democrats became Sweden's first far right party to win seats in parliament.

The opposition centre-left Social Democrats, who governed Sweden for much of the period since World War II, suffered a painful slump in support.

After becoming party leader of the right-wing Moderate Party in 2003, Mr Reinfeldt moved it towards the political centre, toning down its criticism of Sweden's welfare state and adopting a consensual approach. He supports Sweden's entry into Nato, provided there is cross-party support.

Born in 1965, Fredrik Reinfeldt joined his party's youth wing in 1991.

Thailand

Yingluck Shinawatra, the youngest sister of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, led the opposition Pheu Thai party to a landslide victory in July 2011 and became Thailand's first woman prime minister.

In the country's first general election since 2007, Pheu Thai won 265 seats out of a possible 500 - enough to form a single-party government.

However, in what was seen as a shrewd political move, the party announced it would form a coalition with four smaller parties, thus broadening its support in parliament for promised reforms.

Ms Yingluck, aged 44 at the time of her election and a successful businesswoman, promised to bring stability and reconciliation to what had for some years been a deeply polarised country. However, critics were quick to point out her inexperience, given that she had never before run for office nor held a government post.

The influence of her brother, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and convicted of graft two years later, loomed large throughout the election and beyond. Despite living in self-imposed exile, Thaksin Shinawatra is still seen by many as pulling the strings of government behind the scenes.

The opposition claimed that Ms Yingluck's primary role was to marshal the Thaksin faithful - the mainly poor rural voters who kept him in power - and serve as his proxy as he governed from abroad.

Though Thailand enjoyed relative stability for the first two years of Ms Yingluck's premiership, an attempt to pass a political amnesty bill in the autumn of 2013 - which would have allowed Mr Thaksin to return from exile without serving his jail term - reignited simmering political tensions.

The opposition brought its supporters out onto the streets in their tens of thousands, and mass protests continued for months.

In December, Ms Yingluck dissolved the lower house of parliament and called early elections for February 2014 in a bid to defuse the crisis. This does not appear to have satisfied the opposition, which continues to call for her to step down and has announced that it will boycott the elections.

Analysts say that despite the protests, Ms Yingluck still enjoys a strong rural support base, which could be enough to return her to power in the next elections.

Yingluck Shinawatra has degrees in politics and before running for election she had a corporate career in telecommunications and property. She is married and has one son.

The Bahamas

The Progressive Liberal Party returned to power at elections in May 2012, and party leader Perry Christie became prime minister for the second time. He defeated Hubert Ingraham's Free National Movement, which had won parliamentary elections in 2007.

The PLP had dominated Bahamian politics up until 1992, when the FNM swept to victory on an anti-corruption programme. The PLP returned to power in 2002, and the two parties have alernated in government ever since.

Mr Christie, 69, was prime minister in 2002-2007. Top of his agenda now is tackling the high unemployment rate, concerns about rising crime figures, and controversy over oil exploration.

Critics fear that oil development could harm the ecology and tourism sector. Mr Christie supports exploration, but insists he will protect the vital tourism industry.

Tonga

Lord Tu'ivakano became the country's first prime minister to be elected by parliament rather than appointed by the king in December 2010.

Tu'ivakano, a former speaker of Parliament, won 14 votes - two more than pro-democracy leader Akalisi Pohiva - in the ballot among the 26 members of the Tongan house of representatives.

Tu'ivakano, the minister for education and training in the former government, replaced Feleti Seveli.

Under Tonga's new constitution, voters directly elected 17 seats in parliament, while nine were reserved for nobles.

Previously, the tiny Pacific kingdom was run by a parliament dominated by a clique of nobles selected by the king, who also chose the prime minister and cabinet.

The swing towards democracy followed riots in the capital Nuku'alofa in 2006, which claimed eight lives and destroyed much of the business centre as people protested against the slow pace of political reform.

Trinidad and Tobago

Kamla Persad-Bissessar became Trinidad and Tobago's first female prime minister when her People's Partnership coalition won a landslide victory in elections in May 2010.

Her coalition's victory sent the People's National movement into opposition after more than four decades of almost unbroken rule.

Former prime minister Patrick Manning had called snap elections midway through his five-year term to thwart an opposition motion of no confidence against him.

Persad-Bissessar, a former attorney general, pledged to bring transparency and accountability to all areas of government, while maintaining critical policies to ensure economic stability in the energy-rich nation.

Observers said one of her challenges would be to hold together her coalition of diverse interests.

In November 2011, Ms Persad-Bissessar said the security forces had foiled a plot to assassinate her and members of her cabinet.

She blamed the alleged plot on criminals seeking revenge for her decision in August to impose a state of emergency in response to a surge in violent crime linked to drugs gangs.

Turkey

Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a third term of office in June 2011, following a resounding general election win for his Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The election gave the AKP its highest electoral score since coming to power in 2002, and put Mr Erdogan on course to become the most successful leader in Turkey's democratic history.

His party nonetheless fell just short of the majority it was seeking to press ahead with a major constitutional overhaul without the support of other parties in parliament. Mr Erdogan in his victory speech promised to seek compromise with the opposition over the issue.

Mr Erdogan has brought economic and political stability to Turkey and faced down the country's powerful military establishment, which previously had a history of overthrowing elected governments that it saw as challenging either the secular constitution or national security.

Steady military pressure combined with negotiations also brought the Kurdish rebel PKK group to a truce that provided for a withdrawal of all PKK fighters to Iraq from May 2013.

In September 2010, his government won resounding public approval for its plans to change the 30-year-old constitution. The amendments to the constitution were aimed at reducing still further the power of the military and meeting the requirements for EU membership.

Opponents accuse the government of authoritarianism and point to growing intolerance towards critical journalists and media. The Journalists Union of Turkey says 94 were in jail for carrying out their professional duties - the highest number in the world. More than half are members of the Kurdish minority.

The heavy sentences handed down to retired military officers found guilty of conspiring against the Islamist government have also led Mr Erdogan's critics to accuse him of trying to silence the secularist opposition. The prime minister denies that these cases are politically motivated.

Mr Erdogan hinted in October 2012 that he might stand for the presidency in 2014, and is widely expected to made renewed efforts to boost the constitutional powers of the head of state ahead of the vote in order to turn Turkey into a presidential republic.

Mr Erdogan first became prime minister several months after his party's landslide election victory in November 2002. He had been barred from standing in the poll because of a previous criminal conviction for reading an Islamist poem at a political rally. Changes to the constitution paved the way for him to run for parliament in 2003.

He identified EU entry as a top priority and introduced reforms which paved the way for the opening of membership talks in October 2005. although these have run into the twin pillars of widespread European opposition and the eurozone crisis.

Since then Mr Erdogan's foreign policy has concentrated as seeking a role as honest broker in the Middle East by building bridges to Iran and Arab states, while adopting a stridently hostile tone towards Turkey's longstanding ally Israel - albeit falling short of severing diplomatic relations.

The popularity of his "Turkish model" among liberals and moderate Islamic groups in Arab countries has boosted Turkey's prestige, although this has yet to translate into tangible foreign-policy gains for the country.

In the summer of 2013 Mr Erdogan began to look vulnerable for the first time as mass anti-government protests erupted in several cities, further inflamed by the violent police response.

A further threat to Mr Erdogan's continued rule emerged in December 2013, when police launched an inquiry into alleged corruption among the prime minister's allies. Mr Erdogan denounced the probe as a "dirty operation" against his government.

Tuvalu

The governor-general appointed opposition leader Enele Sopoaga as prime minister in August 2013 to succeed Willy Telavi, whom the governor-general had dismissed over his failure to convene parliament for eight months.

Born in 1956, Mr Sopoaga is the younger brother of former prime minister Saufatu Sopoaga and served as a civil servant and diplomat before entering politics in 2010. He served as deputy prime minister briefly that year before becoming leader of the opposition.

He has been one of the most prominent spokesmen for his country on climate change in his various capacities as ambassador to the UN, foreign minister and head of the Tuvaluan delegation to the Cancun international climate change conference in 2010.

Tuvalu has no political parties. Allegiances revolve around personalities and geography. The 15-member parliament is popularly elected every four years. The prime minister is chosen by MPs.

Ukraine

Mykola Azarov resigned as prime minister amid mass protests in January 2014.

President Yanukovych accepted his resignation and that of his cabinet, but asked them to stay on until a new government is formed. It follows a vote by MPs to scrap controversial new laws limiting the rights of demonstrators, which sparked violence when they were introduced.

Mr Azarov, an ethnic Russian born in Russia, is a close associate of President Yanukovych and succeeded him as head of the Party of Regions in 2010. After the government of Mr Yanukovych's chief rival, Yuliya Tymoshenko, fell in a vote of confidence in March 2010, Mr Azarov formed a coalition with the Communists and the centrist Lytvyn Bloc.

Mr Azarov was head of the tax administration in 1996-2002, and his term as finance minister during Mr Yanukovych's subsequent premiership oversaw dramatic economic growth.

He was briefly acting prime minister during the presidential election crisis of 2004-2005, and resumed the post of finance minister during the Yanukovych government of 2006-2007.

A mining specialist, Mr Azarov is a technocrat with neither a political base nor ambitions of his own. His poor command of Ukrainian is often highlighted by his opponents, who see him as a symbol of Mr Yanukovych's alleged pro-Russian orientation.

Ukraine's economy has stagnated under the premiership of Mr Azarov. He has refused to cut expensive gas subsidies, which the IMF says are a block on any further loans. Negotiations with Russia on the price of gas have made little progress, and plans to forge closer ties with the European Union foundered in November 2013 when, after much prevarication, the government decided against signing a free-trade agreement.

United Kingdom

David Cameron became prime minister at the head of a coalition government on 11 May 2010, returning his centre-right Conservative Party to power after 13 years of rule by the centre-left Labour Party.

Mr Cameron formed a partnership with the third party, the traditionally social liberal Liberal Democrats, after an inconclusive parliamentary election from which the Conservatives emerged with the largest number of seats, but without an absolute majority.

It is the first formal coalition government in 70 years to govern the UK, where the electoral system usually guarantees a majority for the largest party.

The partnership has proved fractious, with Mr Cameron at times seen as struggling to maintain discipline. Several constitutional reform projects - including plans for an elected upper house of parliament and changes to voting for the lower house - have fallen by the wayside as a result of deep differences between the two parties.

Deep cuts

On coming to power, the new PM was confronted by a daunting economic situation, with the UK only slowly emerging from a deep recession caused by the 2008 global financial collapse, and facing a rapidly mounting budget deficit.

Mr Cameron promised that cutting the deficit would be his top priority. In October 2010, Mr Cameron's government announced a programme of deep cuts in government spending - the UK's largest in generations.

In late 2013, improved growth estimates and employment figures suggested the economic gloom may be lifting, but concerns remained about the sustainability of the recovery, as well continuing pressure on household finances.

All of this came against the background of the continuing crisis in the eurozone, and Mr Cameron has faced pressure from the right of his party to distance Britain further from any deeper European Union integration.

The prime minister sought to ease this tension in 2013 by proposing a referendum on whether to leave the European Union after the next election, although this faces opposition from both the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

Born the son of a wealthy stockbroker in 1966 in London, Mr Cameron was educated at Eton College - Britain's top private school - and Oxford University. Aged 43 on coming to power, he was the youngest prime minister since 1812.

Vietnam

Nguyen Tan Dung was elected to the post by parliament in 2006 and re-elected in July 2011, at the recommendation of the Communist Party.

The former Viet Cong communist guerrilla and one-time central bank governor is considered a reformer, but Vietnam - one of the fastest growing countries in Asia - has struggled with economic woes during his tenure.

Correspondents say his record is mixed. He has been a strong supporter of state-owned conglomerates, such as the shipbuilding group Vinashin, which was revealed to be near bankruptcy in 2010 and restructured.

He came under public pressure to resign after several top Vinashin officials were jailed for their roles in the scandal, but he was spared disciplinary action by the Communist Party.

Private economists generally deride his embrace of lumbering state firms, saying the sector warps the competitive environment, saps precious capital needed elsewhere and is a major source of economic inefficiencies.

In June 2013, Mr Dung survived a no-confidence ballot in the national assembly, but with his position weakened after more than 30 per cent of its members voted against him.

Under Nguyen Tan Dung's leadership, international human rights groups accuse Vietnam of taking a tougher stance against political dissidents, including those peacefully expressing their views online. The government does not tolerate any threat to its one-party rule, and people can be jailed for publicly calling for a multiparty system.

Citation

"Countries Compared by Government > Leaders > Prime minister > Profile. International Statistics at NationMaster.com", British Broadcasting Corporation 2014. Aggregates compiled by NationMaster. Retrieved from http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Government/Leaders/Prime-minister/Profile

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