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What we’re watching: US presidential debate, Yemeni prisoner swap, “illiberal” rule of law watchdog

The US debate, round #1: US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden will clash tonight in Cleveland in the first presidential debate of the 2020 cycle. The debate will, as always, provide a first opportunity to see the two candidates speak directly to (or over) one another, and Trump's line of attack will be interesting to watch. Will he hammer away at Biden's career as a DC insider in order to hurt the former vice president's support among working-class folks? Or will he try to knock Biden off balance with shots at his mental acuity? And Biden will need to come prepared to parry Trump if the president distorts facts or tells lies about his record. Surely the most anticipated moment will be Trump's response to the New York Times' bombshell weekend report on his tax returns. Will Biden use those revelations to attack Trump as a failed businessman, a tax cheat, or simply as a person with privileges that few voters enjoy? The event will certainly be a big spectacle, but barring a big surprise, its impact on the race itself might be smaller than you'd think: there appear to be few undecided voters this year, and neither man is a mystery at this point. According to a recent poll, less than 30 percent of Americans say the debates have mattered to them when casting their vote over the past twenty years.

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What We're Watching: Malaysian PM hopeful, Mozambique needs EU help vs ISIS, Polish fur politics

Malaysian political drama: Malaysia's (eternal) opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says he finally has enough votes in parliament to be appointed prime minister, seven months after the coalition that was going to support him collapsed amid an internal revolt that also forced out 95-year-old Mahathir Mohamed as head of the government. Two years ago, Mahathir — who governed Malaysia from 1980 to 2003 — shocked the country by running in the 2018 election and defeating his former party UMNO, which had dominated Malaysian politics since independence in 1956. After winning, Mahathir agreed to hand over power to Anwar — a former protégé with whom he had a falling out in the late 1990s — but Mahathir's government didn't last long enough to do the swap. Will Anwar now realize his lifelong dream of becoming Malaysia's prime minister? Stay tuned for the next parliamentary session in November.

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US election seen from Poland: "Extremely lucky" to have Trump

Lukasz Warzecha is a commentator at the conservative weekly Do Rzeczy, based in Warsaw, Poland. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Gabrielle Debinski: How do you think the Polish government sees the differences between a potential Biden foreign policy and a continuation of the Trump administration?

LW: In fact, the question about a potential Biden victory has been raised a couple of times in political discussions in Poland. But I have an impression that the ruling party has been avoiding any clear reply to this question. They just tend to say something like nothing very important will change or they just don't say anything.

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What We're Watching: A Polish rainbow, Macron in Lebanon, Bolsonaro must protect indigenous communities

A Polish rainbow: When Poland's ultra-conservative president Andrzej Duda was sworn in for his second term on Thursday, he was greeted by a show of colors, as members of the opposition coordinated their outfits to reflect the rainbow flag that symbolizes solidarity with the gay community. Duda, an ally of the nationalist ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, who beat Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski by a hair, made gay rights a major political issue in the campaign, repeatedly denouncing "LGBT ideology," as a threat to the nation. Meanwhile, several rural Polish towns that support PiS have declared themselves "LGBT free," prompting infuriated officials in Brussels to threaten to withhold EU funding. Indeed, this episode is just the latest flashpoint in the worst culture war in Poland since the end of the Cold War.

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What We’re Watching: Sudan softens laws, Duda wins by a whisker in Poland, protests erupt in Russia's Far East

Sudan legalizes booze (for some): Three decades after Sudan's strongman president Omar al-Bashir introduced draconian measures mandating the death penalty for those who "abandon" Islam, the country's new transitional government has introduced sweeping reforms to its criminal law. The changes allow non-Muslim Sudanese to consume alcohol and bans female genital mutilation. Sudan's transitional government, a joint civilian-military body which took office in August 2019 after popular protests pushed al-Bashir out of power, says that the reforms aim to counter the long-running persecution of black and Christian communities. But is there another motive at play? As Sudan's economy teeters on the brink of collapse, its government wants to be removed from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List, which would open it up to international investment. The US says it's open to this, but only if it sees meaningful progress on human rights and democracy — and efforts to counter financing of terrorist regimes in the region. Sudan's nascent transitional government might be hoping that these changes help accelerate its removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, which currently makes it ineligible for financing from the IMF and World Bank.

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