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

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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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