BOSTON — This is the week when the Republicans will choose a frontrunner to challenge Barack Obama in the November elections.
Sure, Mitt Romney won the Iowa caucus last week, but an eight-vote win against the likes of Rick Santorum is hardly convincing.
Romney will have to do much better in the New Hampshire primary, on Tuesday, Jan. 10. He enjoys a great lead in the polls, but what is most noticeable is that even those Republicans for Romney are not enthusiastic about him. Romney's got a lot of convincing to do.
Rick Santorum's got a lot of convincing to do, too. He is staking himself out as the true conservative, but Santorum has made plenty of gaffes. It looks like his adamant opposition to same-sex marriage may cost him in New Hampshire, where he was booed over that issue.
This is also the week of 100th birthdays.
South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress, celebrated its centenary on Sunday. The party has an illustrious history of leading a courageous, principled battle against apartheid and white minority rule. Against all odds, it transformed South Africa into a multiracial democracy, and it was a key influence in encouraging the rest of Africa to throw off the shackles of colonialism.
But the ANC has been resting on its laurels since it gained power in 1994, according to many critics. The money spent on its lavish birthday festivities could have been much better spent on building a few new schools and health clinics.
The other 100th birthday this week is the anniversary of the Republic of China — better known as Taiwan. Remember, the Republic of China used to be the state of China but it picked up and moved to the little island of Taiwan when the Communists took over in 1949. China is now the Peoples Republic of China.
In recent years the Taiwanese state has been eclipsed by giant China's huge economic gains. Because everyone wants to do business with China, Taiwan's support from the international community is dwindling. It will be interesting to see how Taiwan marks its centennial.
Relations with China will dominate Taiwan's presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 14.
President Ma Ying-jeou, 61, the ruling Kuomintang party leader, is seeking a second four-year term and is running on a policy of forging closer economic ties with mainland China. He is challenged by opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chair Tsai Ing-wen, 55, the island's first female presidential candidate. The election is being held amid slowing growth, a stock market slump, near-record home prices and stagnant wages.
Tsai has focused on domestic issues and has criticized the pace of Ma’s move to improve relations with China, but she has avoided talk of Taiwan's independence during her campaign. The issue of closer ties with China dominated a Jan. 6 debate among candidates, the last held before the election on the island of 23 million people.
On Monday, Jan. 9, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, yet again, holds talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. This time the powerful pair, known collectively as Merkozy, will meet in Berlin to try to work out new rules to make the European Union stick to tighter budget discipline and closer fiscal integration. Good luck!
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has not yet scheduled a press conference this week but he is challenged to respond to the series of violent attacks against Christians by the Islamic extremists of Boko Haram. The deadly explosions and assaults have pushed Nigeria toward sectarian conflict.
BONUS: Further ahead, next week will have a glittering start on Sunday, January 15 when the Golden Globe awards for film and television are announced in Los Angeles. The Golden Globes, awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are relaxed and fun, largely thanks to the free flowing champagne.