COVID is ravaging these countries: How are their leaders doing?

COVID is ravaging these countries: How are their leaders doing?

We're now six months into the worst public health and economic crisis most countries have seen in generations. But how is that affecting politics? We take a look at the leaders of the countries that currently have the five largest death tolls.


#5 UK: 41,000 deaths. At the beginning of the year, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was basking in the biggest Conservative election victory in 33 years, and preparing to play hardball with European Union trade negotiators over post-Brexit ties. Enter: coronavirus. After first downplaying the pandemic and suggesting a laissez-mourir herd immunity approach, he caved to science and imposed lockdowns.

But his dithering produced the worst of both worlds: Europe's highest death toll and its biggest economic downturn. Now EU talks are all but stalled, and no one knows how big the additional economic hit of Brexit will be. Meanwhile, the opposition Labour Party is back in the game under popular new leader Sir Keir Starmer.

When current wage support schemes expire this fall, Johnson will have to decide whether to renew them (he doesn't want to) or risk the political fallout of soaring unemployment, particularly in UK regions that were key to his victory. And if there is a second coronavirus wave, can the once invincible-looking Johnson really make it to the next election?

#4 India: 60,000 deaths. From the very start, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi faced a difficult challenge: how to impose lockdowns in a country where a huge informal economy and sprawling urban slums make it impossible for hundreds of millions of Indians to work from home or practice social distancing.

His early move to impose a nationwide lockdown on short notice initially created chaos, but it also showed decisiveness and leadership that helped to keep his approval ratings high. What's more, Modi and his ruling BJP party have controlled the narrative well — both through traditional media outlets and a sophisticated social media game — amid the weakness of the opposition Congress Party.

Still, Modi is facing a huge economic challenge: growth was already slowing before COVID-19, and there's little relief in sight. Keep an eye on some of the state elections coming up for a barometer of how BJP/Modi are faring.

#3 Mexico: 61,000 deaths. When the pandemic hit Mexico, left-wing populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) worried about the economic impact of lockdowns on the poor, so he told Mexicans that they should just go out to eat. Since then tens of thousands have died of COVID-19, while the economy has suffered a historic triple shock of falling energy prices, evaporating tourism, and lockdowns.

Polls show growing reservations about the government's response, but AMLO's own approval ratings overall have held broadly stable in the low 60s. In part that's because the opposition — the long-governing establishment parties whose monopoly on power he and his Morena party broke — is in disarray and besieged by bombshell corruption investigations.

But the going is about to get tougher for AMLO: the economy will shrink 10 percent this year but, strapped for cash, he's resisted shelling out more money on social programs that help the lower-income Mexicans who are his base. Next year's midterms will be a referendum on AMLO's handling of the virus and the economy.

#2 Brazil: 117,000 deaths. President Jair Bolsonaro ridiculed the disease even as it surged in Brazil. He lost two consecutive health ministers over it, and faced a bombshell obstruction of justice charge. As his polling plummeted and talk of impeachment swirled, he urged protests against Congress and the Supreme Court, stoking fears that a leader so openly nostalgic for the days of dictatorship might try to stage a coup.

But now, stimulus checks have helped his poll numbers to 37 percent, their highest mark on record (at least among those who rate him "excellent" or "good.") To be fair, 37 isn't exactly a bell-ringer, and if the stimulus dries up without the economy turning around, Bolsonaro would be in trouble again. But for now, he has to feel cautiously good about his prospects for re-election in 2022. Bolsonaro has the unwavering commitment of a solid third of Brazilians. In a deeply polarized system, that might be enough.

#1 US: 182,000 deaths. America First wasn't supposed to apply to a pandemic death toll. But despite Donald Trump's erratic, highly politicized, and largely ineffective response his approval ratings have held around 40 percent.

That's in part because so many Americans see the pandemic the way they see everything else: through a partisan or pro/anti-Trump lens. And like his pal Bolsonaro, Trump can always rely on a hardcore 35 percent of the population, along with near total support among Republicans.

That's not a majority of voters, but given the quirks of the US Electoral College, it doesn't need to be. His rival Joe Biden is hammering Trump's mishandling of COVID-19 and the economic collapse it caused, but Trump knows that he's got a chance if November comes down to a few thousand (potentially mailed in) votes in swing states – what could go wrong?

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Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

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Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

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For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

A Trump media platform? Is this for real?

This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.

The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.

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Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.

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