Welcome to Axios World, where two evenings a week we break down what you need to know about the big stories from around the globe.
Women wait to cast their votes in Muzaffarnagar, India. Photo: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
The world's largest-ever exercise in democracy began today, the first of seven election days over the next five weeks as India's 900 million registered voters cast their ballots.
The big picture: Prime Minister Narendra Modi was swept into power five years ago promising to turbocharge India's economy and flex its muscles on the world stage. This election represents a referendum on him, Alyssa Ayers of the Council on Foreign Relations writes for Axios Expert Voices:
Between the lines: There are big questions about the intelligence failures that made that attack possible, and the effectiveness of India's response, but the episode “speaks to precisely the attributes Modi has been touting — strength, decisiveness and leadership," the Carnegie Endowment's Milan Vaishnav tells me.
Modi has remained India's most popular politician despite the mixed economic record, and the current nationalist fervor only plays into his hands. Even the opposition Congress Party acknowledges that Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be the largest single party in the next parliament, Vaishnav says.
He says that leaves three scenarios:
What to watch: The election will unfurl in stages for security and logistical reasons, so votes won't actually be counted until May 23.
The bottom line: "Conventional wisdom sees Modi likely to return to power. But Indian voters have delivered surprises before. With an election of this scale and complexity, nothing’s over until the last ballot is counted," Ayers writes.
Worth noting: This could be the first election in India's history where women make up the majority of the electorate. That's reflected in the main parties' platforms, which include increased social spending and promises of greater political representation for women.
Protesters today in Khartoum. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Four months of protests against Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir finally reached a tipping point this morning. After 30 years in power, Bashir is now under arrest.
The backdrop, via GZERO Media's Alex Kliment: "Bashir first took power three decades ago in a coup backed by Islamic fundamentalists, and he immediately dialed up the Arab-dominated government’s long-running war against black and predominantly Christian separatists in the country’s oil rich south."
The big picture: Bashir's ouster comes shortly after that of Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika. It also follows the voluntary exit of Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev. That means 3 of the world's 13 longest-serving leaders are out in the space of 3 weeks.
Netanyahu addresses supporters in Tel Aviv. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images
Axios contributor Barak Ravid has the key takeaways from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's election victory on Tuesday:
1. Netanyahu won big.
2. His opponent still had an impressive result.
3. Netanyahu won because of the size of the right-wing bloc.
4. The center-left bloc was weak because of low Arab turnout.
5. Netanyahu won despite pending corruption indictments.
6. Netanyahu's close relationship with President Trump made a difference.
Blue skies ahead? Opposition leader Bill Shorten addresses the media from a backyard in Melbourne. Photo: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images
Before any votes are counted in India, we'll already know the winner of Australia's general election. That's despite the fact that the election was only called today.
Where things stand: Morrison starts a few points back in the polls. His pitch to voters is that Labor would endanger strong economic growth.
Worth noting, via Axios' Rebecca Falconer (an Aussie): Australia hasn’t had a recession for almost 30 years.
George Packer has this month's Atlantic cover story, and what a story it is. The piece is adapted from Packer's forthcoming book about diplomat Richard Holbrooke, but it's really a reflection on the high water mark of American power, told through the war in Bosnia.
Here's how it opens:
"What’s called the American century was really just a little more than half a century, and that was the span of Richard Holbrooke’s life. It began with the Second World War and the creative burst that followed — the United Nations, the Atlantic alliance, containment, the free world — and it went through dizzying lows and highs, until it expired the day before yesterday. The thing that brings on doom to great powers — is it simple hubris, or decadence and squander, a kind of inattention, loss of faith, or just the passage of years? At some point that thing set in, and so we are talking about an age gone by. It wasn’t a golden age — there was plenty of folly and wrong — but I already miss it."
His bottom line: "We overestimate ourselves in almost every way, from jingoism to self-hatred, and all the while we ignore nameless people in obscure places like Sarajevo and Banja Luka who still think we stand for something that they want for themselves. To adapt with grace to a cut in power is wisdom. It’s folly to throw away the pearl of our real greatness."
Merkel eyes Macron as they speak to the media ahead of last night's meeting. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images
There are many things the EU doesn't do particularly well. One area of strength, though, is compromise.
Why it matters: U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May arrived in Brussels desperate for a Brexit extension that would avoid a "no deal" exit on Friday but not be so long as to fan further outrage among Brexiteers at home.
Between the lines: Kicking the can further down the road means the U.K. will almost certainly have to take part in European elections next month — electing representatives to a body it is currently attempting to leave.
Across the pond ... Peter Foster, the Telegraph's Brexit Editor (and my old boss), writes that this "ugly-duckling compromise" left no one happy:
The number of executions known to have been carried out around the world fell by 31% last year, to 690, according to Amnesty International.
Flower fields in Lisse, southern Holland. Photo: Remko de Waal/AFP/Getty Images
“We certainly hope that all of his rights will be respected."— Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, on the arrest of WikiLeaks' Julian Assange on hacking charges.
Have a lovely weekend, see you back here on Monday.