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.

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

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For Michael Chertoff, former US secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, the fact that America has not experienced a single attack by foreign terrorists since 9/11 proves that the US was "successful" in its strategy to prevent terrorism. That "was not [an] accident and there was a deterrent effect to be honest — had we been lax, more would have tried." Although he admits the US government wasn't transparent enough about the intelligence it was collecting, Chertoff credits US intelligence agencies with helping to foil the plot to blow up airplanes mid-air from Heathrow to the US in 2006. The US mission in Iraq, or what came after was not clearly thought out, according to Michael Chertoff, who served as the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. The Iraq war made it difficult to focus on the US mission in Afghanistan and absorbed resources that could have been used more effectively elsewhere, he said.

Watch the full episode: Is America safer since 9/11?

Listen: In a frank interview on the GZERO World podcast, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

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As the 76th UN General Assembly gets underway, dealing with the pandemic is still the top priority for world leaders. But for John Frank, vice president of UN Global Affairs at Microsoft, COVID is not the only major challenge the world faces today.

One of them — included in the UN Secretary-General's new Common Agenda for strong, inclusive pandemic recovery — is a different way to measure economic growth beyond the traditional productivity-led GDP model by taking more into account the cost of pollution, one of the main causes of climate change.

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For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

"Pandemic" was the most used word of 2020. "Delta" looks set to inherit this year's title.

Vaccination rates are ticking up slowly. Governments aren't talking to each other enough. Parts of the world are back to normal, while others are still locked down.

Have we actually made any progress since the COVID-19 outbreak?

Unfinished Business: Is the World Really Building Back Better?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 11am ET/ 8am PT

Our speakers:

Special appearance by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Visit gzeromedia.com/globalstage to watch on the day of the event.

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