REDRAWING THE LINES: GERMANY AND COLOMBIA

REDRAWING THE LINES: GERMANY AND COLOMBIA

Over the past four days, Germany’s coalition government nearly collapsed because of a schism over the country’s migrant policy, and a left-wing candidate got 8 million votes in Colombia’s presidential election.​


What’s the common thread? Both stories flow from bold political gambles, framed in moral terms, that national leaders took years ago and which have fundamentally reshaped politics in their countries ever since.

In Germany, which Gabe has been watching closely as always, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 13-year tenure is looking increasingly tenuous as she faces rebellion within her own ranks over migrant policy. Her interior minister, Horst Seehofer of the Bavaria-based CSU party (for decades the more conservative alliance partner to Merkel’s own CDU) says he wants to turn away migrants at Germany’s southern border, directly flouting Merkel’s policy of allowing them in. If the CSU breaks with Merkel, her government could collapse, potentially triggering new elections.

What changed to get us here: Merkel’s historic 2015 decision to open the country’s borders to more than a million migrants from the Middle East and North Africa. In last fall’s elections, the upstart AfD party rode a scorching anti-immigrant platform into the Bundestag, becoming the first far-right party to make it there in Germany’s postwar history and swiping a huge chunk of CSU voters along the way. So for the more conservative figures in Merkel’s coalition, it’s a no brainer: take a harder line on migrants or risk losing more ground to the AfD. The Chancellor now has two weeks to work out a new Europe-wide solution in which other countries accept more migrants. But with anti-immigrant parties running Hungary, Poland, Austria, and now Italy, that won’t be easy. Merkel’s moral stand in 2015 may yet have deep political consequences in 2018.

In Colombia, the fact that Gustavo Petro, a former mayor of Bogota and one-time guerilla, had an opportunity to lose this Sunday’s presidential runoff to center-right candidate Ivan Duque was by itself historic. Never has a left-wing figure made it so far at the national level in Colombia, a country run virtually since independence by center-right parties.

What changed to get us here: Outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016 signed a controversial peace accord that ended 50 years of war with the left-wing FARC guerrillas. Throughout that conflict, the stigma of rebel violence closed off space for a normal left-wing politics and reduced much of political debate to the question of how to deal with the FARC. Now, issues like the economy and corruption have become much more salient for most Colombians, and there was Petro, running on a socially-progressive platform that took aim at inequality and pledged to wean Colombia off of fossil fuels.

Still, Mr. Duque won on a distinctly center-right platform — in many ways influenced by his political patron, hardline former president Alvaro Uribe — that envisions a staunchly pro-business agenda alongside revisions to some of the peace deal’s more lenient aspects. And with strong turnout, he commands a robust mandate. But Mr. Petro was upbeat on election night, pledging to lead a left-wing opposition from the seat he now gets in the Senate. Whether a newly viable opposition from the left pulls Duque towards the center or pushes him more towards his base in a deeply polarized country is a new story that may reshape Colombia profoundly, and fast.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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