What We're Watching: Afghanistan's inaugurations,Taiwan vs China, Italy under quarantine

Afghanistan's parallel inaugurations – Afghani President Ashraf Ghani was sworn in for a second term Monday, but his political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's Chief Executive, refused to recognize the inauguration and held his own concurrent swearing-in ceremony. Back in September, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission announced that Ghani had won the election, but technical issues that delayed preliminary results, as well as allegations of fraud, prompted Abdullah to reject the outcome and proclaim himself the winner. This deepening political crisis threatens to plunge that country into chaos just days after the US and the Taliban signed a deal on the withdrawal of US-led international forces after 18 years of conflict. Whoever heads the Afghan government will have to oversee complicated intra-Afghan negotiations and a contentious prisoner exchange – as of now, we don't know who that will be.


Taiwan vs China – Two months ago, Taiwan's presidential election pitted a party that promised a harsher policy toward China against a party that pledged a friendlier one. The more hardline candidate, incumbent Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, won. The losing party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has announced that it too will adopt a somewhat tougher approach to relations with Beijing. In particular, the KMT, Taiwan's dominant political party for 50 years before falling out of favor, has renounced its former support for the so-called "1992 consensus," a policy which declared that China and Taiwan are part of "One China." That deliberately ambiguous phrase has allowed Beijing and Taipei to develop commercial links while avoiding hostilities. Now, both of Taiwan's major political parties appear to have rejected it, heightening tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

Italy under quarantine – Europe's third-biggest economy has imposed the toughest measures taken by any Western democracy to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), locking down the entire country – 60 million people – in one of the most populated countries in Europe. The move isn't sitting well with some locals: one outraged mayor shot a home video in his t-shirt expressing frustration that he had not been consulted over the decision. European neighbors will be watching to see if the Italian government's strategy works. We're watching to see if the crisis forces the country's fractious ruling coalition to work together more effectively, winning new public support ahead of the next national election, or whether it will frustrate voters and further energize populists who want to buck EU budget rules and keep migrants out of the country.

What We're Ignoring

Venezuela's democracy on fire, literally – A fire has reportedly destroyed some 50,000 voting machines stored in a warehouse in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, casting doubt on the country's ability to hold parliamentary elections later this year. There isn't enough evidence to determine whether the fire was accidental or somebody's act of sabotage, but accusations and hard evidence of past electoral cheating by Nicolas Maduro's government suggest the machines would not have been used for free and fair elections anyway.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.