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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?

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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