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What We're Watching: Myanmar's election, Bolivia's new president, Biden's COVID crew

A supporter of National League for Democracy gather to celebrate at party headquarters after the general election in Yangon, Myanmar

Myanmar's "democratic" elections: Voters in Myanmar voted overwhelmingly on Sunday in support of the National League for Democracy party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, ensuring that it will remain the dominant force in parliament. It was only the second time that voters headed to the polls in a country that's been experimenting with democracy after more than 50 years of military rule. While voter turnout was high, critics say that some 1.5 million people were prevented from voting as part of a deliberate tactic by the joint civilian-military government to disenfranchise voters from ethnic minority states (the election was even cancelled in some of them). The country's ever-powerful military has long been accused of persecuting minority groups (this was reflected in its ethnic cleansing campaign in Rakhine State against Muslim Rohingyas, which were also not allowed to vote). Suu Kyi, for her part, has been accused of turning a blind eye to the genocide despite her credentials as a human rights "warrior." Indeed, the National League for Democracy has its work cut out for it as COVID-19 continues to rip through a country with one of the world's weakest healthcare systems.


Bolivia inaugurates new president: A little more than a year after a contested election led to protests and the ouster of Bolivia long-serving leftwing populist President Evo Morales, the country has inaugurated his protégé, Luis Arce, who handily won a do-over election last month. Arce — who served as Morales' top economic official during the years when the government used a natural resource boom to lift millions out of poverty — faces daunting challenges. Bolivia's economy is mired in its worst slump in decades, as the coronavirus pandemic has cratered prices for Bolivia's natural gas and minerals exports. At the same time, Bolivia has one of the world's highest COVID-19 death rates per capita — in part because political upheavals over the past year made it hard for the government to craft an effective policy. Atop all of that, Arce will take control of a country bitterly polarized after a year of turmoil and animosity between Morales' supporters and the conservative opposition that held power in the interim.

Biden names COVID task force: With new coronavirus cases surging in the US, president-elect Joe Biden has already named a transition advisory team charged with fleshing out the incoming administration's plans to get the outbreak under control. It'll be led by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy (whom GZERO media interviewed here), former FDA commissioner David Kessler, and Dr Marcella-Nunez Smith, a Yale public health expert, and it features an all-star roster of experts and scientists. Although Biden won't have real power to do anything about the pandemic until he takes office in January, the task force will reportedly be working with local and state governments both to assess their needs and, presumably, to advance the Biden team's proposals for broader mask-wearing mandates. We will see how far the task force gets and how politicized this issue becomes during what it is likely to be a very tense transition period. The Trump administration, for its part, isn't allowing the normal transition to proceed.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

Today at 12 noon EST, join GZERO Media for a virtual Town Hall, "Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year," presented in partnership with Eurasia Group and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Our panel will discuss the road ahead in the global response to the COVID crisis. Will there be more multilateral cooperation on issues like gender equality moving forward from the pandemic?

Watch the event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/townhall

Our moderator, CNBC health care correspondent Bertha Coombs, along with Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, and Mark Suzman, CEO of the Gates Foundation, will speak with distinguished experts on three key issues:

Heidi Larson, Director, The Vaccine Confidence Project

  • How will COVID vaccines be distributed safely?

Minouche Shafik, Director of London School of Economics & Political Science

  • How has the pandemic disproportionately impacted women?

Madeleine Albright, Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group and Albright Capital Management; former US Secretary of State

  • What is the opportunity for global cooperation emerging from this crisis, and what are the greatest political risks?
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How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely available in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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