Axios World

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May 02, 2022

Welcome back to Axios World, and Eid Mubarak to all those celebrating.

  • Tonight’s edition (1,998 words, 7½ minutes) swings through five elections coming up this month before getting you up to speed on the situation in Ukraine.

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1 big thing: Global elections outlook

An election rally for Leni Robredo outside Manila. Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

It's a busy month for global elections, starting with the May 9 race to replace Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is term-limited.

The big picture: Lebanon (May 15), Australia (May 21) and Colombia (May 29) will also go to the polls this month.

Zoom in: A new Pulse Asia poll puts Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos at 56%, far ahead of Vice President Leni Robredo (23%) and boxer Manny Pacquiao (7%).

  • Marcos is the son and namesake of the dictator who ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 and was ousted amid allegations of human rights abuses and industrial-scale corruption.
  • More than half of registered voters were born after Marcos Sr. left power, and the family and its political allies have managed to rehabilitate their image and even paint the Marcos era as a lost golden age.
  • His running mate is Sara Duterte, the president's daughter, underscoring the dominance of dynasties in Philippine politics. President and vice president are elected separately, but Duterte also has a big lead.

The other side: Robredo, the current vice president, protested Marcos Sr. as a student in the 1980s and has more recently clashed with President Duterte, including over his bloody drug war.

  • She's drawing massive crowds with promises of reform, but struggling to narrow the gap in the polls. Robredo narrowly beat Marcos Jr. to take win the vice presidency in 2016. It would take a massive upset to repeat that on Monday.

Lebanon's legislative elections are harder to predict.

The backstory: Amid a devastating economic collapse and after the 2020 Beirut port explosion, one might expect the political elite — infamous for self-dealing and self-preservation — to be swept from power.

  • But the opposition is fragmented and poorly funded, and many voters are feeling "a mix of apathy and cynicism," according to the Atlantic Council's Nick Blanford.
  • Hezbollah is likely to emerge once again as the most powerful political faction, Blanford writes, but it could take months of political horse-trading to form a government.
  • What to watch: The political reforms required by the IMF to access a $3 billion rescue package might have to wait until then.

Polls are neck and neck in Australia between Prime Minister Scott Morrison's center-right Liberals and the opposition Labor Party.

By the numbers: Morrison's approval rating was sky-high for much of the pandemic as his strict border policies helped keep cases low, but it's down to 41% according to Morning Consult's tracker.

  • Allegations of sexism in his government have hurt Morrison's standing, as have two factors that could count against many incumbents in 2022: COVID fatigue and the rising cost of living.
  • Labor leader Anthony Albanese has seized on the recent security agreement between the Solomon Islands and China as a sign Australia has lost regional influence under Morrison. The prime minister, for his part, has accused Beijing of election interference.

Latin America's leftward turn could continue in Colombia, where polls suggest a left-wing candidate could be elected president for the first time.

  • Former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro has led consistently in the polls ahead of the first round, but he could face a tight runoff against conservative Federico Gutiérrez on June 19. Ivan Duque, the unpopular incumbent, is ineligible for re-election.
  • Petro was an M-19 guerrilla before entering politics and being elected to Congress in 1991. He has promised to fight inequality and climate change, including by taxing the rich and ending oil exploration. Gutiérrez compared Petro to Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro in a recent debate.

What's next: Expect Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to take a similar line of attack against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose big lead has diminished somewhat ahead of their heavyweight presidential showdown on Oct. 2.

  • If Petro and Lula win, Latin America’s six largest economies would all be led by left-wingers.

2. U.K. local elections could determine Johnson's future

Photo: Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Boris Johnson won't be on the ballot when British voters go to the polls for local elections on Thursday, but his party's performance could determine whether he survives the summer on Downing Street, Axios' Zach Basu writes.

Why it matters: Johnson's reputation as an election winner, bolstered by his landslide general election victory in 2019, has helped Conservative Party members overlook a string of personal scandals.

  • Many Conservative MPs are now waiting for the voters' verdict on Thursday before deciding whether to move to oust him over lockdown-breaking parties at his residence, which made him the first sitting prime minister to be fined by the police.

The big picture: Thousands of council seats, mayoralties and other local offices will be up for grabs in Scotland, Wales and parts of England, including in the Labour heartlands that flipped to the Conservatives in 2019 as Johnson promised he'd "get Brexit done."

  • With Johnson's approval rating down to 29% and the cost of living rising precipitously, some of those areas could flip back.
  • Johnson's allies are preparing for significant losses, but arguing that his leadership is needed on Ukraine and that a war — even one in which the U.K. isn't fighting — is no time to replace a prime minister.

Zoom out: In Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin — which advocates unification with the Republic of Ireland — is likely to win the most seats in the national assembly for the first time.

  • That won't spell the end of Northern Ireland's membership in the U.K. at least not yet, but it would be a historic shift. The Good Friday agreement mandates power-sharing between unionists and republicans.

3. Global news roundup

Computer model projection of high temperatures on May 2, showing the hottest conditions in northwestern India and Pakistan. Image: Weatherbell.com

1. The heat wave gripping parts of India and Pakistan set all-time monthly records this weekend and has yet to fully abate, Axios' Andrew Freedman writes.

  • Why it matters: At least a billion people suffered through temperatures of 104°F (40°C) or higher from Thursday through Sunday, with temperatures in some cities reaching 120°F.

2. Mexico's government plans to change the route of a planned trade railway to avoid Texas over the state's (now-rescinded) rule demanding that all trucks at the border be searched for migrants, Axios' Oriana Gonzalez writes.

  • "We can't leave all the eggs in one basket and be hostages to someone who wants to use trade as a political tool," Mexican Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier said, per the Dallas Morning News.

3. An IMF report calls the war in Ukraine a "severe and exogenous shock" for sub-Saharan Africa, due to surging food and fuel prices, Axios' Ben Geman notes.

  • Zoom in: "Around 85 percent of the region’s wheat supplies are imported. Higher fuel and fertilizer prices also affect domestic food production," the report finds. This hits the region's poor, especially in cities, the hardest.

4. Col. Mamady Doumbouya, who took power in Guinea in a coup last September, says the West African country will transition back to civilian rule… in mid-2025.

5. Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso has declared a state of emergency in three western provinces due to rampant gang violence. He will deploy police and soldiers there.

6. Spanish authorities say Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s phone was infected with “Pegasus” spyware. Targets of the Israeli-made spyware, sold to governments around the world, reportedly range from journalists and opposition figures to Emmanuel Macron and Jeff Bezos.

Bonus: Where in the world?

Today we’re visiting nine places with disputed names. Can you give me the other (often more widely used) name?

  1. Las Malvinas
  2. Diaoyu Islands
  3. East Sea/Korean East Sea
  4. West Philippine Sea
  5. Arabian Gulf
  6. Chinese Taipei (often used in international athletics)
  7. Londonderry
  8. Judea and Samaria
  9. Southern Provinces/Moroccan Sahara

Scroll to the bottom for the answers.

4. Ukraine rebuffing Russia's Donbas advance, Pentagon says

Data: Institute for the Study of War; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

The Pentagon assesses that Russia's progress in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region has been "minimal at best," with Russian forces continuing to suffer from "poor" command and control, low morale, and recurring logistical problems, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Monday.

Why it matters: Two weeks into Russia's potentially decisive Donbas offensive, the U.S. believes Russian forces are experiencing many of the same problems that forced them to retreat from Kyiv, Zach writes.

Driving the news: The U.S. official described the Russians' operations in the Donbas as "very cautious, very tepid, very uneven."

  • "They'll move in [to an area], declare victory and then withdraw their troops, only to let the Ukrainians take it back," the official said.
  • The official also confirmed that the Russian army's highest-ranking general, Valery Gerasimov, visited the Donbas for "several days" last week.

Russian forces have also been pushed 25 miles east of Kharkiv — Ukraine's second-largest city, near the Russian border — over the last 24 to 48 hours, the official said.

  • The official called Ukraine's counteroffensive in Kharkiv "an incredible effort" that has denied Russian forces the ability to push south and link up with other units attempting to encircle Ukrainian troops in the Donbas.

Meanwhile, 14 flights carrying U.S. military aid for Ukraine have landed in the region over the past 24 hours, with 11 more expected in the next 24 hours, the official said.

  • By day's end, about 200 Ukrainian troops will have been trained at sites in Europe on how to use the howitzer artillery systems authorized in recent U.S. military aid packages.

5. Inside Mariupol's steel plant: "We didn't see the sun for so long"

A child from Mariupol looks out the window of his family's car after arriving in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on May 2. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

A group of more than 100 civilians who were sheltering in the maze of underground tunnels in Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant evacuated on Sunday to the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, according to Ukrainian officials, Axios’ Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath writes.

What they're saying: "For a month we were eating — over 40 of us — six tins of food. We boiled two buckets of soup out of them and that was it for the whole day," evacuee Yelena Aytulova, told Reuters

  • "We didn't see the sun for so long,” another evacuee said.

Hundreds of civilians are still in the steel plant, Ukraine's final foothold in the destroyed city, and tens of thousands of others remain in the city itself.

  • The civilian death toll is unconfirmed, but the city’s mayor puts it at 20,000.
  • What’s next: Additional evacuations, supported by the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross, are expected Tuesday, the Mariupol City Council said on Telegram.

Latest headlines:

  • Israel on Monday condemned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's false claim that Adolf Hitler had "Jewish blood," which he used to justify calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a "Nazi."
  • The U.S. has “highly credible” intelligence that Russia will try to annex Luhansk and Donetsk “sometime in mid-May,” U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter said today.
  • Former U.S. Marine Willy Joseph Cancel was killed last week while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces, his mother told CNN. Cancel, 22, is believed to be the first U.S. citizen killed fighting in Ukraine.

6. Eid al-Fitr celebrations around the world

Muslims in Uganda celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Kampala. Photo: Badru Katumba/AFP via Getty Images

Muslims worldwide have started celebrating the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Laurin-Whitney writes.

The big picture: For many, it's the first Eid al-Fitr since COVID-19 pandemic restrictions began to ease.

  • “Words can’t describe how happy I am today after two years we were separated by pandemic. Today we can do Eid prayer together again,” Epi Tanjung told AP in Jakarta, Indonesia. “Hopefully all of this will make us more faithful.”

But for some, it also comes amid conflict and surging food prices and other economic challenges made worse by Russia's war in Ukraine.

  • “It has been the worst Ramadan of my life; not only are we starving, but there is no unity, nor can we worship in peace,” an Afghan man named Jamal told Al Jazeera.

Eid al-Fitr celebrations, in photos.

7. Stories we're watching

Morning prayers on Eid al-Fitr in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo: Amanuel Sileshi/AFP via Getty
  1. 3,000 migrants lost at sea in 2021
  2. Poll: How Americans view China
  3. Solar projects stalled as U.S. probes Chinese imports
  4. Russia says it's pulling out of International Space Station
  5. Russia avoids default with debt payments in dollars
  6. Russian forces looted priceless artifacts
  7. Blast at Kabul mosque kills at least 10

Quoted:

"[F]unnily enough, it was tractors that I was looking at. I did get into another website that had a very similar name and I watched it for a bit, which I shouldn't have done. My biggest crime is that on another occasion I went in a second time. And that was deliberate." 
— Neil Parish, who resigned as an MP after watching porn in the U.K. House of Commons

Answers: 1. Falkland Islands; 2. Senkaku Islands; 3. Sea of Japan; 4. South China Sea; 5. Persian Gulf; 6. Taiwan; 7. Derry; 8. West Bank; 9. Western Sahara.

Key: 1. Las Malvinas; 2. Diaoyu Islands; 3. East Sea/Korean East Sea; 4. West Philippine Sea; 5. Arabian Gulf; 6. Chinese Taipei (often used in international athletics); 7. Londonderry; 8. Judea and Samaria; 9. Southern Provinces/Moroccan Sahara