Of course, the United States presidential election isn't the only major race on the world stage this year. Ian Bremmer takes a look at a number of highly important elections around the globe this year, including those in New Zealand, Israel and South Korea. One thing is clear - for most democratic political contests in 2020, no matter whose name is on the ballot, coronavirus is on voters' minds. Elections right now are as much a referendum on pandemic response as they are on the politicians running.
What We're Watching: New US Supreme Court justice, Morales can go back to Bolivia, Nile dam talks resume
SCOTUS battle rages on: In a major victory for US President Donald Trump just a week out from the presidential election, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, who was then swiftly sworn into office at a nighttime ceremony at the White House. Barrett, a conservative who was tapped to replace deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just 46 days out from the presidential election, is the first Supreme Court justice to be confirmed in over 150 years without the support of a single member of the minority party. Democrats are furious, saying that Republicans — who blocked Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016, arguing at the time that the seat should only be filled after the next US president was elected some nine months later — have cynically backtracked on their own assertions. Democrats have also called the rushed confirmation process "illegitimate." Pressure is now mounting on Joe Biden (specifically, from the progressive wing of his party) to expand the size of the Supreme Court should he win in November, so Democrats can install liberal justices to offset the crucial court's hard-right shift.
Evo Morales' likely return: A Bolivian judge on Tuesday dismissed an arrest warrant for alleged sedition and terrorism against former president Evo Morales, paving the way for Morales, who led the country from 2006 to 2019, to return to Bolivia without fear of detention. Although the warrant was thrown out over a technicality, the investigation against Morales continues. If Morales does return, he'll still likely be expected to show up in court to face the charges, which stem from his alleged role organizing roadblocks in the wake of the disputed 2019 election. Morales initially claimed victory in last year's vote, but the military forced him to resign amid allegations of vote-buying and civil unrest. He has since lived in self-imposed exile in Mexico and Argentina, but vowed to return if Luis Arce, the candidate aligned with his socialist MAS party, won the October 18 October presidential election (he did, in a landslide). Now that Morales will likely be back soon, we're watching to see how his physical presence in Bolivia will affect Arce's first moves as president, given how the new president — a UK-educated economist who seeks to end Bolivian political polarization — distanced himself from Morales during the campaign.
Call it a counter-counter-revolution at the ballot box. One year after mass protests over election irregularities drove Bolivia's long-serving leftist populist President Evo Morales from office, his preferred candidate has won the presidency — possibly by a landslide.
But can the country's new leader, a soft-spoken economist named Luis Arce, move the country beyond the political trauma of the past year?
The back story. Morales, the first indigenous leader of majority-indigenous Bolivia, held power for 14 years, using the country's lucrative natural gas exports to lift millions out of poverty. But his efforts to sidestep term limits dented his support. After charges of fraud in last fall's presidential vote prompted widespread unrest, the military forced him out of office and into exile. Many on the left called it a coup and were outraged when right-winger Jeanine Áñez took over as an "interim" leader and moved quickly to overturn Morales policies, while riot police repeatedly clashed with his supporters. Áñez flirted with a presidential run of her own, but she backed out in order to unify support behind the right's candidate, former President Carlos Mesa.
On Sunday, Arce, the candidate of Morales' Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party, won the election. While official results aren't out as of this writing, independent studies suggest it was a walloping, driven by massive support for MAS in the countryside. Áñez has already publicly congratulated Arce on the win, reducing the likelihood of protests or rejection of the results by Mesa's supporters. For the Morales camp, the result offers political vindication after a year of upheaval and uncertainty.
Who is Luis Arce? As Morales' minister of finance and economy, the 57-year-old Arce was in the cockpit during the years when Bolivia's poverty rate dropped from two thirds of the population to less than 40 percent, and GDP soared.
But he's hardly Evo 2.0. Arce has none of the combative charisma of Morales, a highlander who grew up as a llama herder and once headed Bolivia's powerful coca growers union. A technocratic type from an urban middle-class family who studied economics in the UK, Arce's political style is basically "the polar opposite" of Morales, according to Oliver Stuenkel, a prominent regional analyst.
The challenge ahead. "We will govern for all Bolivians," Arce said Sunday, as he pledged to form a "unity government." It remains to be seen what that means, given that MAS has likely reinforced its strong control over Congress.
Regardless, to reunify a country deeply polarized along political, economic, and racial lines, Arce will need to craft a vision that appeals both to the predominantly rural, indigenous-dominated areas that are the MAS support base, as well as to the urban centers that align with the political right.
He'll also have to shake the suspicion that he's a stalking horse for Morales. During his campaign, Arce was careful to distance himself from Morales, and MAS party leaders now say they think Morales' time has passed. But he remains an influential figure who merits close attention, particularly if Arce opens the way for him to return from exile in Argentina.
The pandemic rages. Bolivia has suffered one of the highest COVID-19 death rates per 100,000 people in the world, in part because political uncertainty undermined the public health response. Meanwhile, the pandemic-driven collapse in global demand for commodities like natural gas and precious metals — which make up 80 percent of Bolivia's exports — has plunged the country into its worst economic crisis in decades, threatening to reverse the progress that Morales and Arce made in reducing poverty.Bottom line: Arce's convincing victory shows that the left remains the dominant force in Bolivian politics. But after a year of trauma, can the mild-mannered successor to one of the region's most charismatic and visionary populists move Bolivia past its bitter polarization?
Europe's disastrous "second wave:" As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Europe, the European Parliament cancelled plans to reconvene next week in Strasbourg, France, saying that the current uptick means that "traveling is too dangerous." It's the second time since September that in-person meetings at the EU legislative body have been cancelled, as countries including France, Spain, Belgium, and the Czech Republic grapple with serious "second waves" of infection, causing hospitals to fill up again in several European cities. In a drastic move Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron reimposed strict lockdown measures, including overnight curfews in multiple cities — including the Paris region — to stop the spread of the disease. (France reported 22,591 new cases on Wednesday alone.) After the 53 European states recorded the highest-ever weekly number of new COVID cases, the World Health Organization issued a dire warning Thursday saying that death rates from the disease could reach four to five times higher than their April peak in the near term if things don't turn around — and fast.
Bolivia's first election since that last one failed: On Sunday, Bolivians will go to the polls to elect a president for the first time since a disputed election last fall led to mass protests and the ouster of Evo Morales, the country's long-serving leftwing populist president. Since then, power has been split between Congress, which is still controlled by Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, and interim President Jeanine Áñez, a right-winger. Clashes between riot police and Morales' predominantly lower-income and indigenous supporters have flared in Bolivia, which is deeply polarized along political, socioeconomic, and racial lines. At the moment, the MAS party candidate, Luis Arce, is leading the polls at 42 percent. If he comes in first on Sunday with more than 40 percent of votes and a 10-point margin over his main challenger — center-right former President Carlos Mesa — he would win outright. If not, there would be a second round between the two men. Whoever wins the presidency will face the daunting task of reuniting a bitterly divided country, while also addressing its biggest economic crisis in 40 years.
Kyrgyz power vacuum: Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov resigned on Thursday after more than a week of mass protests over an election that local critics — and international observers — say was tainted due to vote-buying. Kyrgyzstan is clearly no stranger to political unrest — Jeenbekov is the third president ousted by street protests in the last 15 years. But with the president now out of the picture, there's uncertainty over who will step in. The constitution says the interim leader should be the parliament speaker, but there's growing pressure by opposition groups to appoint current Prime Minister Sadyr Japarov, a populist who wants to nationalize Kyrgyzstan's gold mines. Japarov hasn't been on the job long: he took office just days ago after his supporters freed him from prison, where he was serving a 12-year sentence for kidnapping a governor during a protest against a gold mine project. Whatever happens in Bishkek will be closely watched by Russia —which has close ties to all the former Soviet republics in Central Asia — and China, always wary of potential instability on its borders.
What We're Watching: Merkel's Putin pipeline dilemma, India-China border clash, Morales setback in Bolivia
Putin, Merkel and a poison pipeline: As the evidence mounts that Russian state actors were behind the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has threatened to punish Vladimir Putin by imposing sanctions on a critical gas pipeline that is meant to link Russia to Germany. Navalny has been receiving treatment in Germany, and so far Moscow has ignored Merkel's demands for a thorough accounting of the attempt on his life, which occurred nearly two weeks ago in a Siberian airport. This has put Merkel in a tough spot: on the one hand, stopping construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline would inflict a huge blow on gas-exporting Russia. But German business groups and international investors in the project are pressuring her to keep politics separate from the nearly-complete project, which is meant to massively increase gas imports for German factories and households.
Shots fired on the India-China border: For the first time in years, Indian and Chinese troops exchanged fire on the contested border known as the Line of Actual Control, with both sides blaming the other for the massive escalation. Beijing says Indian troops fired "warning shots" which it called "a grave military provocation," while New Delhi denied this claim, saying the shots came from Chinese aggressors trying to "intimidate" their troops. The flare-up comes after weeks of rising tensions during which both sides amassed thousands of reinforcement troops as well as advanced weaponry to survey the contested area. Back in June skirmishes between Chinese and Indian forces resulted in dozens of deaths on both sides. Worsening diplomatic relations between the countries' two highly nationalistic leaders — China's Xi Jinping and India's Narendra Modi — have recently trickled down to the streets of India, where the public is largely hostile to China and many have advocated boycotting Chinese-made products.
Morales comeback blocked: A Bolivian court has upheld an earlier ruling barring former president Evo Morales from running for a seat in the country's senate. The left-winger Morales, Bolivia's former president (and the country's first indigenous leader), was ousted last year by the military and fled abroad, first to Mexico and then Argentina. In February, a court blocked him from a senate run because he resides outside the country. For his part, Morales says that he is still registered to vote in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, and that he is in exile over fears for his safety back in Bolivia, given that the country's right-wing caretaker government, led by Jeanine Áñez, has threatened to prosecute him for various crimes, including "terrorism and sedition." Meanwhile, a member of Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) party is the current frontrunner in the race for president, which will be held on October 18.