What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
Nigeria's delayed elections – State officials postponed Nigeria's presidential and parliamentary election just hours before voting was to set to begin last weekend. President Muhammadu Buhari said that anyone who would tamper with the results would do so "at the expense of his life." The opposition called this threat "license to kill" and a "direct call for jungle justice." The votes will now be held this Saturday, February 23. The risk of a disputed election outcome and a prolonged period of political uncertainty for Africa's largest economy continues to rise.
Rebel UK lawmakers – Eight MPs broke away from the UK's opposition Labour Party this week. Their newly formed Independent Group's chief gripes are Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's ill-defined stance on Brexit and alleged tolerance of anti-Semitism within the party. The dissidents also hope to attract anti-Brexit Tories to their centrist vision of "evidence-based" policymaking. Three members of governing party quickly joined their ranks. We are watching this despite a history of failed centrist breakaway movements in the UK and some early stumbles out of the gate. Anything that could potentially break two years of Brexit deadlock is welcome at this point.
WHAT WE'RE IGNORING
Nicolas Maduro, concert promoter – Later this week, some of the Spanish-speaking world's biggest musical acts will take the stage in the Colombian town of Cúcuta, on the Venezuelan border. The gig, backed by billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and endorsed by opposition leader Juan Guaidó – who, with broad international support, claims the presidency – is meant to raise $100m to fund humanitarian relief for the country's beleaguered population. Not to be outdone, strongman President Nicolas Maduro, whose troops have been blocking aid shipments from the US and Colombia for fear that they are cover for a military intervention, announced two rival pro-regime concerts on the Venezuelan side of the border this weekend. We are ignoring Maduro's foray into concert promotion, because Branson's massive international event will dwarf what the embattled Venezuelan leader can pull off. Whether that convinces Maduro to open the border to aid, however, is less clear.
Russian libertarians – A Russian publisher claimed this week that sales of Ayn Rand's libertarian manifesto Atlas Shrugged surged 40 percent from 2017 to 2018. This follows recent news that a majority of Russians believe their government "always" or "largely" hides the truth when describing the country's economy, its crime rates, and the strength of its social safety net. Another recent poll suggests the huge popularity boost Vladimir Putin earned from the 2014 invasion of Crimea is now gone. Are these signs of change? Not yet. Some three quarters of Russians say they wouldn't volunteer for a civil society organization or participate in a street protest because they are pointless. Apathy – shrugging, if you will – remains a potent political force in Russia.