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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Lebanese protests return, Japanese gangs help out, Ramaphosa capitalizes on crisis

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Lebanese protests return, Japanese gangs help out, Ramaphosa capitalizes on crisis

A boost for Ramaphosa: Since President Cyril Ramaphosa came to power in South Africa in 2018, factional rivalries inside his own party, the African National Congress (ANC), have undermined the president's attempt to pass much-needed economic reforms. But the unprecedented coronavirus crisis seems to have provided him an opportunity to do just that. Ramaphosa has directed 10 percent of total GDP to a COVID stimulus and rescue package, the largest in South Africa's history, giving him political room to face down powerful unions and freeze public sector wages. And he has approached the World Bank and IMF for crucial financial support. ANC members aligned with former president Jacob Zuma have long rejected any deals with the IMF, in part over fears that the Fund's scrutiny would reveal their party's well-documented corruption. But as further coronavirus-related economic hardship stalks the 50% of South Africa's population who already live in poverty, Ramaphosa's political opponents have stayed largely mum on his plan to increase borrowing from international lenders to weather the crisis. Still, it remains to be seen whether Ramaphosa will seize upon the crisis to try for an even bigger prize: reforming South Africa's bloated and failing state companies.


Help from Japanese gangland: Japan's famed yakuza organized crime groups are reportedly using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to boost their image at a time when the public is frustrated with the government's bumbling response. The heavily-tatted mobsters of the yakuza, who specialize in black market trading, extortion, and racketeering, have been using their networks to source and distribute scarce medical supplies to pharmacies and schools, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They've also offered their henchmen to assist with disinfection of quarantined cruise ships, in an echo of their (illegal) efforts to help clean up the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. But not all of Japan's underworld is as magnanimous: newer less-centralized crime groups known as "hangure" are using the pandemic to launch price gouging schemes and other scams. Another example of the ways in which government shortcomings in a crisis open the way for all kinds of shadier players.

Lebanese protests resume: Lebanon has done a decent job handling the coronavirus – even if sketchy numbers from the Hezbollah-controlled Ministry of Public Health raise doubts about the official toll of just 22 deaths. But the country's beleaguered economy is faring far less well. Lebanon's government moved swiftly to close schools and non-essential businesses, and enforce strict lockdowns, but those measures have only compounded high youth unemployment rates and hurt an economy that was already crumbling. Even before the outbreak, the World Bank predicted that some 40 percent of Lebanese would be impoverished by the end of 2020. As a result, protesters in Beirut and Tripoli remember them? – have recently returned to the streets to call for "revolution," demanding an end to corruption. As Lebanon has now extended its lockdown until the end of April, these economic woes will only get worse.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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