Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.
Gabrielle Debinski is a Staff Writer at GZERO Media. She joined in 2019, after a stint at the New York Times, and several years working in policy in Washington DC. An Australian native, Gabrielle has a BA in journalism and an MA in International Relations from the University of Melbourne. Gabrielle has lived and studied in Australia, Israel, India, and the US. When she's not writing about global politics for GZERO Media, Gabrielle loves to practice yoga, read memoirs, and obsess over the news.
What We're Watching: Latin America's vaccine shortage, China's crackdown on HK's free press, Juneteenth a new national holiday
Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, for instance, which is shut out from COVAX due to US sanctions imposed on the Maduro regime.
Juneteenth to become a US federal holiday: The US Congress has passed a bill making June 19 an official federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The bill will now go to President Biden's desk where it is expected to enthusiastically be signed into law. Juneteenth marks the anniversary of June 19, 1856, when Union soldiers proclaimed the freedom of slaves in Texas, a state where enforcement of President Lincoln's Emancipation Declaration, announced some 2 years earlier, had been sluggish. The bill was approved by a huge majority (415-14) in the House of Representatives and unanimously in the Senate, an important sign of unity at a time of hyper partisanship. Indeed, it stands in contrast to continued efforts to pass a bill on police reform, which have stalled in recent months because vast disagreements persist between Republicans and Democrats. It's the first time that a new federal holiday has been added to the slate since the early 1980s, when then President Ronald Reagan signed a law establishing Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday.
China targets HK pro-democracy media: Hong Kong police arrested on Thursday five editors and executives of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper, accusing them of the bogus charge of conspiring with foreign powers to impose sanctions on China and Hong Kong. It's a sharp escalation of China's push to end basic freedoms in the city, and the first time Beijing has brazenly used its draconian security law for the territory — passed over a year ago — against the independent media. China already issued a warning to Apple Daily last December by detaining its owner Jimmy Lai, one of Hong Kong's richest tycoons, who was later sentenced to 14 months in prison for leading pro-democracy protests in 2019. But even behind bars, Lai remained defiant, urging his reporters to continue doing their job. Now that'll be much harder, as Apple Daily will struggle to pay staff with its bank accounts frozen upon orders from Beijing. More broadly, other independent media outlets in Hong Kong — including the veteran South China Morning Post, owned by billionaire Jack Ma — now know exactly what'll happen to them if they publish stories Beijing doesn't like.
In 2019, Ethiopia's fresh Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering a peace treaty with neighbor and longtime foe Eritrea. At the time, Abiy was hailed by the Western media as a reformist who was steering Ethiopia, long dominated by ethnic strife and dictatorial rule, into a new democratic era.
It's against this backdrop that Ethiopians will head to the polls on June 21 for a parliamentary election now regarded as a referendum on Abiy's leadership. But will the vote be free and fair, and will the outcome actually reflect the will of the people? Most analysts say the answer is a resounding "no" on both fronts.
How did we get here? Ethiopia is deeply fragmented, made up of more than 90 ethnic groups, many of whom have traditionally felt excluded from political power.
Despite accounting for just 7 percent of Ethiopia's population, the Tigray ethnic group dominated Ethiopian politics for decades, after a coalition led by the nationalist Tigray People's Liberation Front helped end the brutal reign of Soviet-backed dictator Haile Mengistu in 1991.
Then came Abiy, an ethnic Oromo who when tapped to take power in 2018, pledged to reform a political system that left many Ethiopians feeling marginalized. Abiy promptly released political prisoners from jail, called for exiled Ethiopians to return home, and prioritized press freedom. But in ushering in these reforms, and others, the new PM unhatched the lid on deep-rooted ethnic tensions simmering beneath the surface. Soon after, inter-ethnic resentments boiled over.
Last November, in response to an alleged TPLF attack on an Ethiopian military base, Abiy launched a military offensive in Tigray. The aggressive move was broadly interpreted as comeuppance for Tigray holding regional elections, defying an order from Addis Ababa calling for polls to be stalled amid the pandemic. Abiy, for his part, said it was a response to "treasonous" provocations from the TPLF.
Worsening humanitarian crisis. The military offensive has since escalated into a full blown humanitarian crisis. Many analysts say that Abiy has overseen a campaign of "ethnic cleansing," where Ethiopian troops — backed by Eritrean forces — have brutalized Tigrayan communities; reports of massacres, rapes, and pillaging are well-substantiated. The UN says that at least 350,000 Tigrayans are experiencing famine-like conditions because Ethiopian troops have burned crops, killed livestock, and blocked humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, tens of thousands have been forced to flee to neighboring Sudan, and more than 2.2 million have been displaced.
What does all this mean for the upcoming vote? Abiy was tapped to lead the ruling coalition, and not elected prime minister by the people, so he has long sought a popular vote to earn real legitimacy. Domestically, this validation is particularly important given that Abiy is the first Oromo, Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, to ever serve as prime minister.
But now, many regions will not be participating in next week's vote, citing administrative and security issues. Meanwhile, several political parties, like the Oromo Federalist Congress, are boycotting the election due to a government crackdown on opposition parties in recent months. In total, at least 78 constituencies of the 547 represented in Ethiopia's parliament will not vote on June 21. So even if Abiy wins, it won't be the indisputable victory he wanted.
Unraveling. Despite all its shortcomings, Ethiopia has been deemed a beacon of stability in the chronically volatile Horn of Africa in recent decades, transforming its agricultural and economic sectors to become the third-fastest growing country in the world from 2000-2016.
But as violence persists, there seems to be no end in sight. The TPLF, resentful that it no longer calls the shots in Addis Ababa, has very little to lose, and Abiy has made it clear that he's not backing down either. This threatens not only the stability of Ethiopia, but of the entire region.
Africa is running out of vaccines: Africa has received fewer vaccines than any other continent, and the results are now showing. Faced with a third wave of infection, many African countries say that cases are soaring and that vaccine deliveries from the WHO-managed COVAX facility remain sluggish, in large part because of shortages from Indian drug manufacturers. South Africa, Namibia, and Uganda say that their healthcare systems are inundated with COVID cases; ICU beds are scarce, and COVID patients are dying while waiting for hospital beds. To date, just 0.6 percent of Africa's 1.3 billion people are fully vaccinated, and new variants are spreading, making containment across the continent even harder. (Cases in the South African province of Gauteng, home to the hubs of Johannesburg and Pretoria, where South Africa's more transmissible COVID strain has run rampant, have doubled over the past week, and doctors are bracing for a surge in deaths.) Meanwhile, the G7 countries agreed this week to send 1 billion COVID doses to poor countries, but experts warn that these may not arrive in Africa before most states' supplies run dry.
US and EU agree to truce on Boeing-Airbus row: After 17 years of quarreling, the US and the EU have agreed to put their differences aside in the ongoing saga over subsidies for Boeing and Airbus, their respective aerospace champions. In 2019, the World Trade Organization found that Brussels had illegally been providing subsidies to Airbus, essentially clearing the way for Washington to slap billions of dollars' worth of tariffs on EU products. Shortly after, the WTO found that Washington was doing the same thing for Boeing, violating international trade regulations and leading Brussels to threaten tariffs on US exports. In reaching this truce on the sidelines of the recent G7 summit, US President Joe Biden and EU representatives have agreed to suspend punishing tariffs — championed by former US President Donald Trump — worth a collective $11.5 billion a year on a range of products like whiskey, cheese, spirits, and tractors. But why now? President Biden has made it abundantly clear that he wants to get the Europeans on side in an increasingly bitter fight with China over a range of economic, human rights and tech abuses. The Biden administration also says that this move will help stabilize manufacturing jobs in aerospace and other sectors, reflecting its "foreign policy for the American middle class."
ICC to probe Duterte's drug war: The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has asked permission to launch a full investigation of alleged crimes against humanity committed during Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs from 2016 to 2019. Duterte's crackdown on drug traffickers has killed about 6,000 people, according to official police data, though local human-rights groups say the real figure is much higher. As expected, the Philippine government blasted the Hague's decision and vowed not to cooperate with the probe. In fact, Manila withdrew from the ICC in March 2019 in response to its preliminary investigation into the drug war. Duterte himself has kept quiet so far, but the threat of a full ICC probe won't draw any sign of remorse for his war on drugs, the signature campaign promise that helped elect him five years ago. Indeed, these days the Philippine president is more focused on choosing whom he'll endorse to run for the top job in next year's elections, and whether he'll be on the ballot as a vice-presidential candidate.
Hard Numbers: Wine allies released in Uganda, UK-Australia trade deal, China encroaches on Taiwan, California's grand reopening
18: A Ugandan court has released on bail 18 supporters of popular opposition leader Bobi Wine. Since Wine rejected the outcome of this year's presidential election, when strongman President Yoweri Museveni declared victory despite allegations that his loyalists had tampered with ballots, hundreds of Wine's supporters have been arrested and interrogated by security forces.
13.9 billion: The UK and Australia agreed to the outline of a deal that aims to bolster the bilateral trade relationship, already worth around 13.9 billion pounds ($19.5 billion) in yearly imports and exports. It's the first free-trade agreement that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has negotiated from scratch since Brexit, because previous deals with Canada and Japan, for instance, were based on pre-existing deals with the EU.
28: At least 28 Chinese aircrafts, including nuclear bombers, entered Taiwan's airspace Tuesday, the largest daily incursion to date. China has gotten more brazen in flexing its muscles over Taiwanese skies in recent months, including near the southern tip of the island.15: After 15 months of pandemic-related closures and restrictions, the US state of California fully reopened its economy on Tuesday. California, which has an economy worth over $3 trillion that would be the fifth largest in the world if it were a sovereign country, was the first US state to order residents to "shelter in place" and close businesses in March 2020.
In 2017, then-US President Trump rallied against NATO, complaining that European member states weren't pulling their weight to bolster the alliance, whose cornerstone is that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. NATO was formed in the wake of World War II as a counterweight against Soviet dominance in Europe and beyond. But this week, when US President Biden met fellow NATO members in the UK, the emphasis was on how to adapt the alliance to counter China's increasing belligerence. Indeed, disagreements over sharing the cost of maintaining military readiness have caused frictions in recent years, and as a result, the bloc agreed that all member states would spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024. So, how are they tracking? Here's a look at who pays what.
What We're Watching: Israel's awkward new government, Novavax is ready to play, Spaniards protest pardons
Is Israel's new government too awkward to survive? Israel's new government was sworn in on Sunday, and for the first time in 12 years, it is not led by someone named Benjamin Netanyahu. Though Netanyahu will remain head of the opposition bloc and leader of Likud, the biggest party in the Knesset, the new government, one of the most ideologically diverse in the nation's history, represents a massive political shift in the crisis-ridden country. The new government's representatives include right-wing nationalists — like Naftali Bennet, Israel's new prime minister — and centrists like Yair Lapid who heads the influential Yesh Atid party and is responsible for bringing the coalition together. For the first time in two decades, the far-left Meretz party will also sit in the government, as will a conservative Arab party, headed by Mansour Abbas, who reversed a decades-old position by agreeing to serve in government with Jewish Zionists in the hopes of delivering for his community. There are plenty of reasons to doubt the longevity of the new government given its incoherent alliances, but on the flip side, these factions — most of which are small and would likely not have made the cut to sit in government without Lapid's deal-making — have incentives to make the government work. The first item on the agenda will be passing a national budget, the first in two years. But with a slim coalition of only 61 out of 120 Knesset seats, pulling this off won't be easy.
Novavax's COVID vaccine does not disappoint: Clinical trial results for the coronavirus vaccine made by US-based Novavax showed it is 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections — and 100 percent effective against serious, life-threatening illness. Novavax says it plans to produce 100 million doses per month by the end of September, and 150 million doses per month thereafter. Low and middle-income countries will be among the first to receive shipments, according to Novavax. Approval in the US may take some time as US regulators may not issue "emergency" authorization the way they did earlier in the pandemic for Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna. However, Novavax will seek approvals also in the EU, UK, India, and South Korea where, for the most part, vaccine rollouts have been weaker than in the US. Scientists say that in addition to offering basic protection, this shot could emerge as one of the most effective "boosters" for those who have already been fully inoculated, because it proved very effective against some variants of concern.
Protests over pardons in Spain: Tens of thousands of Spaniards have taken to the streets of the capital, Madrid, to protest the government's plans to pardon Catalan independence leaders who were jailed for sedition in 2019. Leftwing Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says the move is meant to promote unity in a country where the Catalan independence drive in 2017 provoked a brutal crackdown and constitutional crisis, but critics say he's dangerously pandering to the Catalan nationalist parties whose support his fragile minority government needs. Meanwhile, nationwide, nearly two thirds of Spaniards disapprove of the move, and the figure is almost certainly higher than that among non-Catalans (source in Spanish). The pardons have stoked particular fury among Spain's resurgent far right.
Hard Numbers: Suu Kyi's trial begins, Canada rejects J&J batch, Indian polygamist dies, German Greens slide
4: The trial of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi began in a heavily guarded courtroom in the capital of Naypyidaw on Monday, more than four months after the military seized power in a coup. Suu Kyi faces bogus charges that could send her to prison for years, including that she breached COVID restrictions in the lead up to last year's election.
300,000: Canada has rejected 300,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine sent from the US, over fears that they were contaminated during production. This comes after the US Food and Drug Administration recently said that 60 million doses of the J&J shots had to be trashed because of sanitary problems at a Baltimore production facility.
89: Ziona Chana, a famous Indian polygamist who fathered 89 kids, has died in India's northeastern state of Mizoram. Chana, who led a polygamous Christian sect and had dozens of wives, built a multistory complex to house his massive family that became a popular tourist destination in the state.20: This spring, the German Green Party's Annalena Baerbock looked like the frontrunner to replace outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel in September's elections. But now her polling lead has evaporated, leaving her trailing the Social Democrats' candidate by 20 percentage points. Analysts say a series of missteps, including inconsistencies in Baerbock's CV as well as confusion about the Greens' climate policy, have contributed to her plunge.