What We're Watching: France's regional elections, the Taliban's gains, Sweden's government falls, NYC goes to the polls

French President Emmanuel Macron is seen at a polling station during the first round of French regional and departmental elections, in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France June 20, 2021.

Le Pen and Macron falter in regional elections: This weekend's regional elections across France were a massive blow for both President Emmanuel Macron and his La République En Marche party (LREM), as well as for his rival Marine Le Pen and her far-right National Rally party. Le Pen, who has been soaring in the polls in recent months ahead of presidential elections in May 2022, was hoping her party would win a state-wide race for the first time, but National Rally failed to pull through even in conservative regions like Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, where exit polls suggest that the center-right Republicans party, which has been almost irrelevant in recent years, will likely come out on top. Macron's LREM also performed terribly, taking just 10 percent of the vote nationwide. Macron and Le Pen tried to nationalize the regional polls by focusing on country-wide issues like COVID and immigration, but extremely low voter turnout makes it hard to draw broader conclusions. A second round of voting will take place next Sunday (two rounds of voting are conducted unless parties win more than 50 percent of the vote) and the National Rally is hoping for a comeback.


The Taliban's making moves: As the US prepares for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban is already swooping in to reclaim territory that it previously lost to US-backed Afghan security forces. After seizing nearly two dozen districts this weekend alone, they've now taken over about 60 out of 387 of Afghanistan's districts, over the past two months. Amid a growing perception that a Taliban takeover is inevitable after the full US withdrawal in September, reports suggest local leaders are racing to engage with the insurgents in hopes of getting better deals with them. President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday that his government would arrest local leaders and Afghan security forces who broker deals with the Taliban, but can he enforce that? Ghani has also appointed a new defense minister, army chief and a new minister of interior to oversee the police. But so far, his warnings seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Ghani and the chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abduallah, who have a power-sharing government, will meet with President Biden at the White House on Friday. But the US already has one foot out the door — 50 percent of its personnel and equipment are already gone — is it too late to stop the dominoes from falling the Taliban's way?

Sweden's government collapses: For the first time ever, Sweden's government has lost a no-confidence vote, forcing Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Lovfen to either resign or call snap elections. Lovfen's minority coalition government with the Green party was already on fragile footing, but the final straw came in a dispute over rent controls. In a bid to placate conservative opposition parties, Lofven — who actually supports the controls — said he'd look into the possibility of removing them for new homes. That triggered a backlash from the Left party, which withdrew from the government and called the no-confidence vote, which rightwing opposition parties supported. Rent control is a big issue in Sweden: close to 90 percent of the country's municipalities report housing shortages, as new construction has failed to keep pace with a growing and highly-urbanized population.

Gotham goes to the polls: A little more than a year after New York City became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, New Yorkers will vote on Tuesday for the person they want to lead them out of the worst economic and public health crisis to hit the city in a century. Strictly speaking, the vote is just a Democratic Party primary, but given the party's lock on the city, the winner is all but assured to win the general election this fall. Whoever that is will take over the world's largest urban economy amid massive challenges: unemployment in New York City is double the national average, violent crime is rising, and gaping socioeconomic and racial inequalities have been laid bare by the pandemic. After a nasty and contentious campaign, the frontrunners are the Black former police officer and current Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, former presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and former Sanitation Department head Kathryn Garcia, all of whom are centrists. But progressive candidates including former city hall adviser Maya Wiley and city comptroller Scott Stringer are in the hunt as well, particularly since the election will use a ranked-choice system whereby voters rank their top five candidates and runoffs are calculated automatically until one candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote. For superb coverage, check out the online local NYC paper The City.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the EU's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

Why should all eyes be on the Virginia suburbs?

I'm here in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where the state will be having a gubernatorial election on November 2nd. The Virginia governor election is held in the year after the US presidential election typically, and is generally seen as a bellwether for how popular the incumbent president of the United States is. In 2009, the Republican candidate won by a commanding 16 points despite the fact that Virginia has been trending more and more Democratic in recent years due to the population growth here in the suburbs, which tend to be more blue than rural areas of the state.

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Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

16: Rich countries have secured 16 times more COVID vaccine supplies than developing nations that rely on the struggling COVAX facility, according to analysis by the Financial Times. COVAX is steadily losing bargaining power to buy vaccines at low prices due to the combined effects of booster shots being doled out in developed countries, as well as low-income countries deciding to buy jabs on their own.

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Listen: Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

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