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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Poland's election, Iraq on the rocks, the Peruvian urban exodus

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Poland's election, Iraq on the rocks, the Peruvian urban exodus
Poland's election mess: Many countries have postponed their elections fearing that in-person polls could put voters at risk of contracting COVID-19. Not Poland. The country is still set to hold its presidential election on May 10, and any decision to the contrary will now come at the 11th hour, after a contentious debate. The ruling coalition government, led by the nationalist Law and Justice Party, wants to delay the vote by just a week or two so that a vote-by-mail system can be rolled out. Critics note that a fraud-proof system of this kind usually takes months or years to get off the ground. But the government wants to capitalize on incumbent President Andrzej Duda's strong recent polling, and is even trying to bend rules which forbid any changes to elections within six months of the vote. Opposition parties, meanwhile, worry about fraud and the public health risks of holding the vote so soon, and some have called for a boycott. Parliament is set to vote on the government backed-plan this week. The crucial vote lies with the lower house, where the governing coalition has a slim majority.

Iraq on the rocks: Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Iraq was facing multiple political and economic crises, including a potential Islamic State resurgence, grassroots anti-corruption protests, and the lack of a permanent Prime Minister. But now the oil-rich state's economy is on the brink of collapse, for two reasons. First, lockdowns around the world have cratered global demand for oil, which accounts for 90 percent of Iraq's government revenues and directly contributes nearly 40 percent of GDP. With global crude prices at their lowest levels in decades, the government is already $2 billion short. Second, Iraq's own lockdowns have proven catastrophic in a country where more than half of all workers toil in the country's informal economy, which means they can't work from home and have no jobless benefits. For many of these families, not working means not eating. When oil prices plummeted back in 2014, the IMF doled out $4.5 billion in aid to helped Iraq weather the storm. But amid the current crisis Iraq is just one of many crisis-stricken developing countries pleading with the IMF for urgent assistance.

A Peruvian exodus: Nations emerge from poverty and build middle classes when waves of people move from the countryside into cities to find better opportunities to learn, work, and earn. That's why one of the coronavirus' most damaging effects lies in its ability to force people out of cities, where infection rates are highest, back into the countryside—and perhaps back into poverty. That's the context for reports like this one, which describes the highways in Peru lined with men, women and children, burdened with their possessions, escaping the capital city of Lima on foot. Peru is especially hard hit: current data say it has the second highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Latin America, behind only the much larger Brazil. But the frantic and often uncertain exodus from the city to the countryside is an echo of what is happening in developing countries all over the world.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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