What We’re Watching: Former Malaysian PM sentenced, Turkey backs down on sea plans, Europe quarantines Spain

What We’re Watching: Former Malaysian PM sentenced, Turkey backs down on sea plans, Europe quarantines Spain

Former Malaysian leader gets 12 years: A Malaysian court on Tuesday sentenced former prime minister Najib Razak to 12 years in prison for corruption related to the multibillion-dollar 1MDB state investment fund scandal, which brought down his government 2 years ago. According to the judge, Najib received more than $700 million out of the at least $4.5 billion that 1MDB looted from state coffers to pay for luxury hotels, yachts and even the Hollywood film "The Wolf of Wall Street." Although he was convicted of using part of the money to buy his wife a $27 million pink diamond necklace and to fund his political campaigns, the former PM insists he was duped by fugitive financier Jho Low and his partner Riza Aziz, Najib's stepson. So, what happens now? While the sentence is a permanent stain on his record, Najib is out on bail and will not go to jail until he exhausts the appeals process. Also, his political party returned to power in February and is now the biggest bloc in the current Malay nationalist alliance government, while Najib himself — who remains immensely popular among many ethnic Malays — is an elected MP and will only be disqualified if the conviction stands. The bottom line: whether or not (or even if) he ends up behind bars will test how serious Malaysia is about rooting out corruption.


Hopeful news from the Med and Aegean: Turkey and Greece are old rivals who have divided the island of Cyprus. Greece is a member of the EU, and Turkey is not. But the two countries are also NATO allies, and their governments have tried at times to improve relations in recent years. This summer, however, tensions have surged again as Turkey claims the right to drill for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean — energy discoveries there have boosted Israel, Egypt, and EU member Cyprus, and Turkey wants a piece of the action — and to explore natural resources in the Aegean Sea, most of which Greece claims for itself. When Turkey announced it would send a research vessel into contested waters last week, Greece and France called for sanctions against Turkey, and Germany hinted it might follow. For now, Turkey has de-escalated tensions by promising to halt drilling during negotiations. EU officials say tensions have begun to ease, but this is a story to keep an eye on.

Stay away from Spain: Several European countries have implemented travel restrictions for citizens traveling to Spain after the country reported several fresh COVID-19 outbreaks. This is a huge blow for the Spanish tourism industry, which accounts for about 15 percent of Spain's GDP and was hoping to recover at least part of its pandemic-related losses during this summer season. Ironically, when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK would impose a two-week quarantine (now revised to 10 days) on all travelers from Spain, his transport secretary was on holiday... in Spain. The Spanish government also gave mixed signals: Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez hit back at Johnson, calling the UK's move an "error," while Spain's top epidemiologist mused that less British tourists coming will probably help contain the spread of the coronavirus throughout Spain. The bigger picture is that the new restrictions against Spain highlight the risk of countries rushing to reopen for tourism without clear (and reciprocal) policies on who is allowed in, and how. Other tourism-dependent European countries like France, Italy or Croatia will surely be monitoring what happens to Spain so they don't end up in the same situation.

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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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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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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