Over the last year or so there have been major political upheavals which have overthrown deeply entrenched dictators and despots. Street protests have thrown unpopular leaders into the dustbin of history and popular anti-corruption movements have forced governments to change laws and crack down on corrupt politicians. Political pundits expect this trend to continue in 2012.

The U.S., Russia, France will be electing new presidents this year.

New leaders who have emerged in these countries could occupy the hot seat and change the political landscape in their country. Some, like Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, have been around for quite some time waiting to strike when the iron is hot. Some have stated goals and ideologies while others' policies and programmes have been fuzzy. We try to shed light on the frontrunners:

Ron Paul: Probably very few political analysts or journalists could guess that the 76-year-old Republican potential presidential candidate Ron Paul would be a serious presidential contender. Paul came third and second in the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primaries.

The Rep from Texas, who has always been vocal about free market and non-interference, was often on the political sidelines. No more. His good performance at the caucuses and primaries will strengthen his nomination bid and bolster his attempt to contest as the Republican presidential candidate in the November elections against President Barack Obama.

Imran Khan: Imran Khan's re-emergence in Pakistan's political scene is seen as his second coming.

In the volatile country, the Tehrik-i-Insaaf leader has been organising rallies, drawing thousands of people. Apart from highlighting people's issues, he has hit out at the U.S. and harps on an independent foreign policy.

Having been around in politics for over 15 years, he has shown the ability to connect with the masses.

Eric Cantona: Former Manchester United player Eric Cantona is another person to watch out for. The 45-year-old footballer recently appeared in the left-leaning newspaper Liberation appealing for 500 signatures so that he can run for the French presidency. The newspaper, with the headline "Cantona enters the campaign", however said that Cantona used the platform to demand better housing facilities for the French.

In December 2010, the footballer had urged fellow Frenchmen to organise a national bank and withdraw money from financial institutions responsible for the 2008 global crisis. Cantona may not contest the election but could influence voters and policy-makers.

Xi Jingping: China's Vice-President Xi Jingping is being groomed to take over from President Hu Jintao this year, according to a New York Times report.

Although the Chinese government is tight-lipped about the details, it is reported that Jingping's grooming began in 2010. Jingping, the potential President of the world's second largest economy, is known for his political acumen and ideological leanings.

Alexei Navalny: There has been a lot of speculation over a possible Arab Spring-like uprising in Russia in the wake of anti-government protests over rigging of last December's parliamentary election. One threat to strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is blogger Alexei Navalny. He has mounted a strong campaign against the government and observers believe that he might emerge as the potential threat to Putin.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas,challenges his Republican rivals for a long distance bike ride in Texas heat, in CNN debateREUTERS
Tehrik-i-Insaaf leader Imran KhanPress Association
Eric Cantona in Cannes, FranceReuters
Russian political and social activist Alexei Navalny has been charged with embezzlement.Reuters