What We’re Watching: No US election winner yet, Myanmar’s election, EU rule-of-law deal

A man attends a "Count Every Vote" rally the day after the US election in New York City. Reuters

US presidential race is (still) on: Three days later, the US presidential contest remains undecided. We're keeping an eye on four battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania — that'll decide who gets the 270 electoral college votes needed to become the next occupant of the White House. Still-emerging results from these states and the math make Biden the favorite to win because despite razor-thin margins, the vast majority of outstanding ballots are mail-in votes in blue urban areas. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign is crying foul about the entire process, demanding that the count stop where he is ahead... yet continue in Arizona, where the president is trailing Biden. Team Trump has already filed lawsuits in all these states as well as in Michigan and Wisconsin — which have already been called for his rival — but most experts agree that the legal basis for electoral fraud is flimsy, and that Trump will ultimately fail in his crusade for the Supreme Court to rule on disputed state results. Will it all finally end on Friday?


Myanmar votes: Myanmar goes to the polls on Sunday in its second general election since the return of "democracy" a decade ago. The National League of Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of the country, is expected to sweep the vote, mainly because there is no strong opposition in parts of Myanmar except in a handful of states dominated by minority ethnic groups long plagued by conflict. But the wider story is how the government's decision to cancel voting in some of the conflict-ridden states and disenfranchise all Rohingya Muslims indicate that Myanmar — ruled by a ham-fisted military junta from 1962 to 2010 — is becoming less democratic. After all, the NLD effectively shares power with the generals, who control the top portfolios in Suu Kyi's cabinet and have a constitutional stranglehold on parliament. In other words, Myanmar has the trappings of a democracy but the military still calls the shots, as they have done for most of the country's history. We're watching to see if low turnout confirms that most Myanmar people who waited so long for an election are politically apathetic, with dire consequences for the country's (democratic) future.

Can the EU keep good money from bad actors? For several years now, the European Union has been at odds with the avowedly "illiberal" governments of Hungary and Poland over their increasingly brazen flouting of EU democratic norms — judicial independence and civil society protections in particular. But Brussels has been largely powerless to do anything about it because the two countries have shielded each other in EU policy votes that require unanimous consent. On Thursday, however, negotiators finalizing the bloc's 2 trillion euro ($2.36 trillion) budget and coronavirus recovery package reached a compromise that should give the EU a little more muscle — but only a little. Under the agreement, Brussels will be able to cut funding over democracy concerns, only two conditions: first, that the rule-of-law threat directly affects how EU money is spent, and second, that a simple majority of member states approve. Those conditions are significantly narrow that Budapest and Warsaw can probably agree to them. Whether they are sufficiently toothy to slow the "illiberal" roll of both countries will remain to be seen.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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