What We're Watching: Bolsonaro's setback, Western Sahara flare-up, Moldova's new president

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro allies suffer in local elections: Elections haven't brought great news for Brazil's far-right president Jair Bolsonaro lately. First his gringo pal and ideological trailblazer Donald Trump lost his re-election bid up North. Then, this past weekend, dozens of candidates whom Bolsonaro supported in Brazil's local elections failed to win outright or even make it to runoffs. According to one tally (Portuguese) by the daily Estado de São Paulo, only 9 of the 59 candidates whom the president supported advanced in any way. This is the first Brazilian election to gauge the national mood since the onset of the coronavirus — which has taken more lives in Brazil than anywhere except the US. Overall, incumbent politicians and traditional parties generally fared well. Does that mean the anti-establishment furor that swept Bolsonaro to power in 2018 is fading? It's hard to say just yet — but as Bolsonaro begins to position himself for re-election in 2022, these election results will surely be on his mind, and ours.


Western Sahara conflict flares: For decades, the Sahrawi nomads of the Western Sahara have demanded independence from Morocco, which took control of the region in the mid 1970s after Spanish colonial forces withdrew. A bloody and inconclusive war between Morocco and the local Polisario Front (a Sahrawi rebel liberation movement) ended with a fragile UN-backed truce in 1991. Now, after thirty years, tensions are flaring again, as Moroccan forces launched a military operation in a UN-controlled demilitarized zone in response to what Rabat says are recent provocations by Polisario guerillas. The Polisario, for their part, say they are fed up after years of false promises: when the 1991 armistice was declared, the UN created a mission (known as MINURSO) to monitor the ceasefire and facilitate a referendum in which the Sahrawi would choose between independence or unification with Morocco. But no such referendum has ever taken place. Meanwhile, thousands of displaced Sahrawi continue to live in squalor in refugee camps in neighboring Algeria. This conflict now threatens to further destabilize the tumultuous Sahel region, which is already grappling with a deadly Islamic insurgency, a civil war in Libya, and a flare up in Ethiopia that's spilling over into Sudan and Eritrea.

Moldova's new president: Pro-EU opposition candidate Maia Sandu won the presidential runoff in the small former Soviet republic of Moldova, defeating the staunchly pro-Russian incumbent, Igor Dodon, by a staggering 15-point margin. Sandu, a former prime minister and World Bank economist, has called for closer ties to the EU and more serious efforts to tackle the country's staggering level of corruption (an infamous bank fraud scheme totaled almost a fifth of the country's GDP). Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, has long been caught in a tug of war between its former imperial masters in Moscow and the (distant) promise of EU membership. Sandu's upstart victory is something of a black eye for Russian president Vladimir Putin, who had openly backed Dodon. We are watching to see how Sandu navigates her country's foreign relations while trying to make much needed improvements at home.

In a new episode of That Made All the Difference, Savita Subramanian, head of ESG Research, BofA Global Research, explains why ESG factors are critical to why some companies succeed and some fail.

"I think 10 years from now, we won't even call it 'environmental, social and governance,' or ESG investing. We won't call it sustainable. It'll just be part of investing," she says.

Link to the episode here.

This weekend, world leaders will open the COP26 climate summit, the UN's annual climate change conference, in Glasgow. Some insist this event is crucial to the multinational fight to limit the effects of climate change; others dismiss it as a circus that will feature politicos, protesters and celebrities competing for attention – one that's long on lofty promises and short on substance.

What's on the agenda?

Political leaders and negotiators from more than 120 countries will gather to talk about two big subjects. First, how to reduce the heat-trapping carbon emissions that scientists warn can inflict catastrophic damage on millions of people. This is where they'll offer their "nationally determined contributions," diplomatic jargon for their updated promises on their climate goals. Second, how to help poorer countries pay for adaptation to the climate damage that's already unavoidable.

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Less than a year after the world started putting COVID vaccines into people's arms, most regions have immunized at least half their populations, but Africa still lags behind. With industrialized nations hoarding jabs and the COVAX facility faltering, barely five percent of the African population is fully vaccinated.

Some enterprising South African scientists are now making a bold bid to change that, with an experiment that could benefit not only Africa's 54 nations and billion people, but the entire world: Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a Cape Town-based startup, has developed a plan to reverse-engineer Moderna's mRNA shot and manufacture it for priority distribution on the continent.

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11: Hit by a massive new COVID wave, Moscow has issued an 11-day lockdown of schools, businesses, and all "non-essential" services. Russia is now one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, having recorded 400,000 deaths by some estimates. Russia's high rate of vaccine skepticism isn't helping.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Has Russian behavior in cyber changed after President Biden and President Putin's meeting earlier this year?

Well, unfortunately, we see ongoing assertiveness and aggression from the Russian side, targeting the US government, but also US tech companies. And the fact that there is so little accountability probably keeps motivating. Shortly before the Russian elections, Apple and Google removed an app built by opposition parties, to help voters identify the best candidate to challenge Putin's party. The company sided pressure on their employees in Russia, but of course, the pressure on the Russian population is constant. And after these dramatic events, the silence from Western governments was deafening.

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No government today has the toolbox to tinker with Big Tech – that's why it's time to start thinking of the biggest tech companies as bona fide "digital nation states" with their own foreign relations, Ian Bremmer explains on GZERO World. Never has a small group of companies held such an expansive influence over humanity. And in this vast new digital territory, governments have little idea what to do.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

Right now, only one region of the world is reporting an increase in new daily COVID cases. Here's a hint: it's one of the places where vaccines are, for the most part, easiest to get.

It's Europe. According to the World Health Organization, the region last week notched a 7 percent uptick in new daily infections, the third week in a row that infections rose there.

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