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Georgia votes: Democratic candidate U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker

Reuters

What We’re Watching: Georgia's runoff election, Iran’s bluff, Putin's black eye, Ramaphosa's political survival

Walker and Warnock reach the finish line

Tuesday is the day that Georgia voters, exhausted by months of this bitterly contested election, will have their final votes counted. Incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock is expected to win a close race with football legend Herschel Walker. Early voting, which is expected to favor Warnock, has had a historically heavy turnout. The Democrats have already secured their Senate majority by winning 50 seats. (A 50-50 tied vote is decided by Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat.) But a 51st seat would be important for Democrats, because it ensures that no single Democrat can win concessions by threatening to block the party agenda and that Democrats have majority control within every Senate committee, speeding the approval of judges and other Biden appointees. A Warnock victory would also give former President Donald Trump yet another political blackeye in the hotly contested state of Georgia. President Joe Biden carried the state in 2020, while Democrats Warnock and Jon Ossoff were elected. Gov. Brian Kemp and particularly Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, distinguished themselves in 2020 and 2021 by refusing to support Trump’s effort to overturn his presidential loss in the Peach State.

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People in Hong Kong hold sheets of paper in protest over coronavirus disease restrictions in mainland China.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: China's zero-COVID shift, Russia's fertilizer deal, Ramaphosa's corruption probe, EU's oil wrangling

China hints zero-COVID shift, censors online protesters

Chinese people who can't wait to ditch zero-COVID — basically everyone except the government — got a glimmer of hope Thursday, when the senior official overseeing the policy said that China was entering a "new stage" in taming the virus. Although what that means is unclear, his comments follow moves by several big cities to relax lockdown rules. Meanwhile, now that most COVID protesters are off the streets, Xi Jinping's censors have taken the fight to cyberspace. They'll have to get creative because Chinese netizens are now ranting about zero-COVID with the online equivalent of the now-verboten blank sheets of paper: sarcastic memes or words that sound similar to Xi or resign. Interestingly, the government outsources content moderation to social media companies that use a mix of humans and artificial intelligence. Exhaustion with zero-COVID might be the biggest test to date of a system that’s not designed to be perfect but rather effective enough at wiping out critical voices.

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Supporters of opposition party KMT wearing t-shirts with the Taiwan flag at an election rally in Taoyuan.

REUTERS/Ann Wang

What We’re Watching: Taiwanese election, Trump's taxes, South African protests, ugly economic forecast

As Taiwan votes, China watches

Taiwanese go to the polls Saturday to vote in the first election since early 2020, when President Tsai Ing-wen won a second term in office right before COVID erupted. This time it’s only a local election, but as with anything political in Taiwan, China is paying close attention. Beijing is bullish on the pro-China KMT party, which is leading the polls in several key races. (Fun fact: the KMT mayoral candidate for the capital, Taipei, is the great-grandson of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the founder of modern Taiwan.) A good overall result for the KMT would mean two things. First, it would buck historical trends — and China's declining popularity among Taiwanese — if voters sour on the ruling anti-China DPP party just months after China responded with its biggest-ever show of military force to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting the island. Second, it raises the stakes for the DPP ahead of the presidential election in 2024, when the popular but term-limited Tsai needs a strong candidate for the party to stay in power. Alternatively, if polls are wrong and the DPP does well, expect fire and fury from across the Taiwan Strait.

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GZERO Media

What We're Watching: G7 summit, SCOTUS gun-rights ruling, Ramaphosa's bad optics

G7 meets as global fault lines deepen

Leaders of the world’s leading industrialized democracies — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US — will gather in Bavaria this weekend to discuss ways to shore up support for Ukraine without slipping into a direct conflict between NATO and Russia. China’s “coercive economic practices” will also be on the agenda, according to US officials. With global geopolitical fault lines opening up as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, one key G7 guest to watch is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will attend just two days after taking part in a pivotal summit of the BRICS, where B(razil), I(India), C(hina) and S(outh Africa) all looked for ways to deepen ties with R(ussia.)

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South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa.

REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Viewpoint: Is it a make-or-break year for South Africa’s president?

Eurasia Group's Africa Director Shridaran Pillay looks at the year ahead for President Cyril Ramaphosa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is struggling to resolve numerous deep-rooted problems in South Africa: high unemployment, low economic growth, rolling electricity blackouts, and the wage demands of public-sector unions that continually threaten to derail public finances. But to effectively deal with these challenges, he first must shore up his own political position.

At the ruling African National Congress’s elective conference in December, Ramaphosa will try to obtain a new term as party president and place close allies in other important positions. That would allow him to unify a divided party, press ahead with needed economic reforms, and continue with an anti-corruption campaign aimed at reforming the ANC's image ahead of the 2024 election and sidelining opponents to his agenda.

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A man walks past Sinn Fein election posters along the nationalist Falls Road in Belfast.

REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

What We're Watching: Elections in Northern Ireland, South African president in trouble

Northern Ireland’s choice

On Thursday, voters across the UK head to the polls for local elections, but it’s the contest in Northern Ireland that might make history. Sinn Féin is expected to finish with the most seats in Northern Ireland’s assembly. Its victory would be more symbolic than immediately substantive, since power in the assembly must be shared between the two lead parties, and Sinn Féin has focused its campaign on today’s economic hardship, not on a century of Irish partition. But the symbolism matters. A Sinn Féin win would mark the first time in Northern Ireland’s 101-year history that the UK province is led by a party that supports reunification with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. It would make Sinn Féin the most popular party on both sides of the Irish border. And it would prove deeply embarrassing for UK PM Boris Johnson, who is fighting for his scandal-plagued political life at the moment and considering another battle with the European Union over Northern Ireland’s place in the EU’s single market.

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Russian troops arrive in Belarus for a joint response force exercise.

Russian Defence Ministry/TASS

What We’re Watching: Russia-Belarus drills, US inflation, Quad meeting, Libyan PM defiant, South African speech

War games in Belarus. On Thursday, more than 30,000 Russian troops, supported by surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets, begin 10 days of active military drills in Belarus. NATO says it’s the Kremlin’s biggest deployment there since the end of the Cold War, and it comes amid Putin’s military buildup on Ukraine’s doorstep. Western capitals worry the drills could be a smokescreen for action against Kyiv, though it’s unlikely Putin would bust a move that steals the spotlight from his pal Xi Jinping during the Winter Olympics. Still, with US troops deploying to the region and Russian warships steaming into the Black Sea, there’s a lot of firepower and room for error at a time when trust between Russia and the West is badly frayed. Any miscalculation could quickly spin out of control.

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U.S. President Joe Biden arrives for the G20 leaders summit in Rome, Italy October 30, 2021.

Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Biden in Europe, Gulf states vs Lebanon, elections in Nicaragua, South Africa & Virginia

Biden's Euro trip. President Joe Biden is on a crucial Euro trip. It began in Rome at the G-20 Summit, where his idea for a global minimum tax rate was broadly endorsed by the group. Biden also visited Pope Francis at the Vatican — a get-together that produced decidedly less scary photos than when his predecessor held a papal visit — and met with France's President Emmanuel Macron to try to smooth over strained relations after the AUKUS debacle, which he now says had been "clumsy." The US president had another face-to-face with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, just a week after Ankara threatened to expel the US ambassador. But there's a domestic component at play too: Biden was hoping to have passed two infrastructure bills, which include money for climate change, before he attended the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, which kicked off on Sunday. Failure to close the deal on Capitol Hill would deal Biden's credibility a heavy blow just at the moment he wants to reinforce the US commitment to climate change reduction goals at this week's summit and to claim, yet again, that America is indeed back! But Democrats continue to wrangle over both what's in the bills and how to pay for them. Meanwhile, only a third of Americans now say that the US is headed in the right direction. Biden was hoping to have the wind at his back as he sailed into Europe. Instead, he is facing a strong political headwind.

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