What We're Watching: Le Pen on the rise, big leak in Iran, bad omen for Japan's LDP

Leader of France's far-right National Rally party, Marine Le Pen

Why is Marine Le Pen gaining momentum in France? "Each time France is hit by terrorism, the extreme right benefits," one French journalist told the Times Friday after an immigrant from Tunisia, who had been in the country illegally for a decade, fatally stabbed a French policewoman on the outskirts of Paris. After the attack, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, called for illegal immigrants to be "expelled" and for the "eradication of Islamism." As France continues to suffer from a series of Islamist terror attacks, polls show that Le Pen's hardline views on immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment are resonating with many mainstream voters. That's in part because France has suffered more terror attacks in recent years than any other Western country. Le Pen's electoral prospects are also getting help from President Macron's dismal performance: his approval rating has plummeted (he now has a 60 percent disapproval rating) because of perceptions that his government has botched the pandemic response and the vaccine rollout. Trying to appeal to the center-right before the attack, Macron vowed to uphold "the right to a peaceful life," and after Friday's killing said his government would get tough on "Islamist terrorism." But the opposition said the president's words are tokenistic and don't go nearly far enough. With just a year until the next presidential election, Le Pen is seizing the moment while Macron is mired in a deepening political crisis.


Leaked audio in Iran: Who Done It? Just weeks after the start of Vienna-based talks that aim to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Tehran finds itself rocked by a political scandal after Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was caught on tape dissing the country's hardline political elite. In the recording, Zarif, a fierce proponent of the nuclear deal, accuses Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of attempting to scuttle the nuclear pact, and accuses popular General Qassim Suleimani, who was killed in a US attack last year, of colluding with Russia to "demolish" efforts at a rapprochement with the West. The timing of the leaked audio is particularly curious given that Iran's presidential election is just six weeks from now. So who leaked? Analysts say it was probably political hardliners aligned with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who released it as part of a plan to embarrass and discredit Zarif, perhaps to stop him from running for president himself. (In Iran, deriding the IRGC, a military force established during the revolution that plays a major role overseeing Tehran's foreign policy, is not a popular look.) We're watching to see if there's any more political fallout from the tapes, and how they'll affect the vote.

Japan's PM suffers three ominous losses: On Sunday, Japan held special elections to fill three parliamentary seats vacated over the past year. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party lost all of them to the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, suggesting that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is in rough shape politically as general elections approach this fall. Suga took over the top job last August after the long-serving Shinzo Abe resigned due to poor health. While Suga was initially popular, the economic impact of the COVID pandemic and a sluggish vaccine rollout have hurt him. Importantly, a series of recent graft scandals also seem to have sapped his support: two of the three elections held over the weekend were for seats vacated by LDP politicians implicated in bribery scandals. Suga must call general elections before mid-October, which are sure to be a big test for the LDP at a time when the people of Japan are increasingly frustrated and impatient with their leaders.

While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Delhi-based reporter Barkha Dutt's decades of journalism couldn't prepare her for the horrific experience of covering the death of one specific COVID-19 victim: her own father. In a conversation with Ian Bremmer, Dutt recounts her desperate struggle to find an ambulance to take her father through Delhi traffic to reach the hospital, only for him to die in the ICU. Their in-depth discussion looks at India's struggle with the world's worst COVID crisis in the upcoming episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television Friday, May 7. Check local listings.

A Green Party-led government for the world's fourth largest economy? That's no longer far-fetched. As Signal's Gabrielle Debinski wrote last month, most current polls now show Germany's Greens in first place in federal elections set for September 26. And for the first time, the Greens have a candidate for chancellor. Annalena Baerbock is vying to replace Angela Merkel, who has led Germany for the past 16 years.

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India and Brazil are currently the world's top two COVID hotspots. But while India's crisis is — at least according to official statistics — a relatively recent one, Brazil's COVID disaster has been an ongoing train wreck. Where India seemed to have kept the pandemic under control until some bad missteps about two months ago, COVID has been wreaking havoc in Brazil almost constantly for over a year now. And President Jair Bolsonaro's macho-posturing and COVID denialism has clearly not helped. We take a look at average daily new cases and deaths in both countries since the pandemic began.

US reverses course on vaccine patents: In a surprise move, the Biden administration will now support waiving international property rights for COVID vaccines at the World Trade Organization. Until now the US had firmly opposed waiving those patents, despite demands from developing countries led by India and South Africa to do so. Biden's about face comes just a week after he moved to free up 60 million of American-bought AstraZeneca jabs — still not approved by US regulators — for nations in need. It's not clear how fast an IP waiver would really help other countries, as the major impediments to ramping up vaccine manufacturing have more to do with logistics and supply chains than with patent protections alone. But if patent waivers do accelerate production over time, then that could accelerate a global return to normal — potentially winning the US a ton of goodwill.

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28: Yair Lapid, leader of Israel's opposition Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, has 28 days to form a new government. President Reuven Rivlin tapped Lapid after incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to cobble together a governing coalition by Tuesday's midnight deadline, further prolonging Israel's political stalemate.

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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:

How big of a blow is Apple's new privacy feature to companies like Facebook, who depend on tracking users?

The long-awaited update, including enhanced privacy features, actually empowers those users to decide not to be tracked. So that's great news for people who are sick of how the data trail they leave behind on the web is used. But it has to be said, that simple feature settings changed by Apple cannot solve the problem of misuse of data and microtargeting alone. Still, Apple's move was met with predictable outrage and anti-trust accusations from ad giant Facebook. I would anticipate more standard setting by companies in the absence of a federal data protection law in the United States. That's just to mention one vacuum that big tech thrives on.

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India’s COVID crisis hits home

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