What We're Watching: Spain's far right surge

What We're Watching: Spain's far right surge

Spain's far right surge — The far right Vox party made the biggest gains in Spain's general election Sunday, more than doubling their seat count to 52 (out of 350), to become the third largest party in parliament. For decades, the stigma of Francisco Franco's dictatorship (1939-1975) seemed to insulate Spain from the far-right populism that's swept Europe in recent years. But now Vox's ultra-nationalists will find it easier to shift the national dialogue on key issues like immigration and quashing the Catalan independence movement. The current Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez had hoped that the election – the country's fourth in as many years – would break a political deadlock and strengthen his hand to form a new government. Though Sanchez's Socialists came out on top, they fell short of an absolute majority, losing three parliamentary seats since the last election in April.


A "landmark" ruling in India – India's Supreme Court has ruled that Hindus can build a temple on a hotly disputed holy site in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya. In 1992, Hindu extremists destroyed a 16th century mosque on this site, a place that many claim as the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram. That act of destruction touched off weeks of sectarian violence that killed hundreds of people. We're watching to see whether the court's ruling ends this long-running dispute, or whether it inflames sectarian tensions further in the world's most populous democracy. Many of India's Muslims fear that the ruling BJP wants to shift the country in a more overtly Hindu nationalist direction.

Worsening violence in Hong Kong — Weekend clashes in Hong Kong saw the most violent escalation in five months of pro-democracy protests, as police shot and critically wounded a 21-year-old protester, while a pro-Chinese activist was doused in gasoline and set on fire by an anti-government mob. Anti-government fervor ran high after a pro-democracy student died on Friday after falling from a rooftop, and violent unrest has now spread to university campuses that had formerly been mostly quiet. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader, is clearly losing patience, calling demonstrators "the enemy of the people," but Beijing seems unwilling to risk a broader crackdown just yet. As violence increases, both sides have dug in. We are watching to see how long the deadlock can persist – spoiler: perhaps for a long, long time.

The trouble with counting Kenyans – The Kenyan government's statistics bureau has released new census figures, the first in a decade, setting teeth on edge in a country where political parties are closely aligned with ethnic groups. The census matters because population estimates help determine levels of both political representation and government funding. In a country with a recent history of violently contested elections, some groups are already claiming that the government has manipulated the results to favor some ethnic groups over others. Kenyan officials go door-to-door across each region to collect data, but the information is taken electronically and then dispatched to a central database, fueling mistrust in the integrity of the process.

What We're Ignoring:

Assad's invitation – Good news for anybody pining to be president of Syria: With the country's brutal eight-year civil war grinding to an end, its triumphant strongman, Bashar al-Assad, says that anybody who wants to can run against him in 2021, and that he expects "numerous" challengers at the polls. We're ignoring the temptation to throw our hat in the ring: This is the guy who ran in a "contested" election in 2014 during a hot conflict between his government, ISIS, and rebels seeking to overthrow his family's four-decade iron grip on power – and still netted 89 percent of the vote.

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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