What We're Watching: Jordanians vote, Trump's DOD shakeup, Russian navy in Sudan

Jordan prepares for parliamentary elections. Reuters

Jordan's lackluster election: Amid a massive surge in coronavirus cases, Jordanians headed to the polls this week to elect 130 members to the lower house of parliament. Of more than 4.6 million eligible voters, only 29 percent showed up, the lowest turnout in many years, largely due to fear of COVID-19, a deepening economic crisis, and disillusionment with Jordan's unrepresentative political process. The system favors pro-monarchy tribal candidates and cronies loyal to the all-powerful King Abdullah II, who appoints all Senate members and can unilaterally dissolve parliament. This time, the main opposition party, linked to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, won only 10 seats, five less than in 2016, while women candidates reaped only 15 seats, largely because of a quota system. The Jordanian Kingdom has long been accused of overseeing an electoral system that under-represents cities that are Muslim Brotherhood strongholds, favoring more sparsely populated cities that support the Hashemite monarchy. Indeed, the Jordanian government has its work cut out for it amid a surging pandemic and worsening economic crisis — on top of the burden of providing refuge for some 650,000 Syrians.


Trump's DOD moves: It's been a busy week at the Pentagon. First, President Trump fired US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, before proceeding to dismiss other career staffers at the Department of Defense, replacing them with Trump loyalists. The motives for the shakeup during a lame-duck presidency are unclear. Initially, some analysts surmised that the president was trying to ensure that the US military would have his back if he refused to vacate the White House when Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20, 2021. But now some experts are suggesting that what Trump really wants is to expedite the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Trump, according to that hypothesis, was frustrated at Esper and the generals for pushing back against the president's longtime plan to get all the troops home by Christmas amid rising intra-Afghan violence.

Russian navy in... Sudan? Russia is planning to build a navy base in Sudan — its first in Africa since the end of the Cold War — to gain access to the Red Sea. In exchange, the Sudanese will get Russian weapons and air support for its navy. The deal comes as President Vladimir Putin is seeking to expand Russia's military footprint across the continent by building up to six bases in African countries. Putin's strategy is a simple one: shore up authoritarian regimes that are friendly to Moscow, including with Russian mercenaries to fight on their behalf. Interestingly, the Sudan deal is going ahead despite the fact that it was approved three years ago by Omar al-Bashir — the country's former dictator who was deposed in 2019 — but didn't go through because al-Bashir was worried about being perceived as cozying up to Moscow and peeving the US. Sudan is now on the cusp of being removed from the US' state sponsor of terrorism list, allowing it to access financial markets. Is Khartoum hedging its bets by playing both sides?

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.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

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Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

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5,600: Myanmar's military junta will release from prison 5,600 people who were jailed for protesting against last February's coup. The gesture, the first act of amnesty since the junta took power, comes just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which rarely interferes in members' internal affairs, said it would exclude the head of Myanmar's military from an upcoming regional meeting.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, everybody. And a Quick Take for you. I wanted to talk a bit about Taiwan. I'll tell you, I've talked about it in the media over the last couple of weeks and almost every questioner has been trying to prod me towards, "are we heading to war?" Then I was with some friends at the Trilateral Commission on Friday. I like that group a lot. It's one of these groups that a lot of conspiracy theorists pretend secretly run the world, like the Bilderbergers and the Council on Foreign Relations. Now having attended all three, I can tell you, if they do run the world, they are not inviting me into the rooms where they're making those decisions. If they are doing that, they're also doing a lousy job of it.

Nonetheless, it was fun until I was on stage and the first question I got was about, "Hey, so the Chinese are changing the status quo. Do you think that means we're heading towards war?" I just want to say that, first of all, I am clearly less concerned about the imminence of confrontation and military conflict between the United States and China than almost anybody out there. Accidents are certainly possible, but particularly around Taiwan, where both sides know the stakes and have made them abundantly clear for decades now, and everyone involved gets it I think it's much less likely.

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Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

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