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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.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele is an unusual politician. The 39-year old political outsider boasts of his political triumphs on TikTok, dons a suave casual uniform (backwards-facing cap; leather jacket; tieless ), and refuses to abide by Supreme Court rulings.

Bukele also enjoys one of the world's highest approval ratings, and that's what helped his New Ideas party clinch a decisive victory in legislative elections on February 28, securing a close to two-third's supermajority (75 percent of the vote had been counted at the time of this writing).

His triumph will resonate far beyond the borders of El Salvador, Central America's smallest country, home to 6.5 million people. Now that Bukele has consolidated power in a big way, here are a few key developments to keep an eye on.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Iran rules out nuclear talks… for now: Iran has reportedly rejected an offer to join direct talks with the US and EU over its nuclear program, saying it won't start the conversation until sanctions on Iran's economy are eased. To be clear, this does NOT mean that prospects for reviving the Iran nuclear deal are dead. Europeans and the Biden administration want a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, and Iran certainly needs the economic boost that would come from a removal of sanctions. But Tehran is going to try to maximize its leverage before any talks begin, especially since this is a sensitive election year in in the country. Iran's leaders are going to play hard to get for a while longer before edging their way back to the bargaining table. Still, it's high stakes diplomacy here between parties that have almost no mutual trust — and one misstep could throw things off track quickly.

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18: A week after threatening protesters with a severe crackdown, Myanmar's ruling junta killed at least 18 people across the country in the bloodiest day of clashes since the generals staged a coup last month.
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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

Quick Take