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May 3, 2021, 6:07 a.m.
Here is today's foreign policy mandate: Narendra Modi's BJP loses the hotly contested elections in West Bengal, US officials deny Iranian prisoner exchange reports and lawmakers in El Salvador oust Supreme Court Justices and the Attorney General.
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Modi's BJP tastes defeat in West Bengal
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata party performed poorly in important Sunday state elections as voters opted for continuity despite the best efforts of the BJP – and Modi himself.
In the end, the All India Trinamool Congress Party won a resounding victory by claiming nearly three-quarters of the seats in the State Assembly and handing over her third term as Prime Minister of West Bengal to its leader, Mamata Banerjee.
Though Banerjee's party won handily, the triumph was by no means predetermined. The BJP won around 40 percent of the vote in the state in the Indian general election in 2019, making it a target at the state level. Last Friday, BJP General Secretary Bhupender Yadav said his party would "win a full majority and comfortably form the next government".
The defeat is a chastising one for Modi, who fought fiercely in West Bengal – and was criticized for holding mass rallies and not shortening the eight election rounds. Since the first of these rounds began in March, it is not yet clear how many votes were cast in protest at Modi's handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic.
Better BJP than INC? The election results, however, were not a complete disaster for the BJP. The party retained power in Assam, one of the four states that have held elections in recent weeks. The leaders of the BJP will also be pleased to see that the Indian National Congress – their national rival – fared worse and failed to win a seat in West Bengal.
On the ropes? Modi has until May 2024 to hold the next general election and is likely to survive this setback. However, the public anger over the COVID-19 pandemic that the government has tried to spread on social media could prove more damaging. Modi's net approval rating as measured by Morning Consult has fallen by 14 points since the beginning of April and by 34 points since last May. However, it is still the highest of all heads of state and government surveyed worldwide.
As Kapil Komireddi writes in Foreign Policy, Modi survived the backlash before, only to get stronger. Komireddi discusses Modi's thinking in light of the COVID-19 crisis in India (and ahead of Sunday's results) and helps us understand why the West Bengal election may not be a wake-up call. “Modi cannot evade the guilt, nor can he bring himself to take responsibility for it. Nothing can make him quit his job, ”he writes.
On Monday 3rd MayUS Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a two-day meeting of G7 foreign and development ministers.
Tuesday 4th Mayis the deadline for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce whether he can form a government after Israel’s elections on March 23, although a 14-day extension may be granted.
On Wednesday, May 5th, Blinken is visiting Ukraine and will meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The World Trade Organization’The General Council, the decision-making body at the highest level, meets – with a patent waiver on COVID-19 vaccines is likely to be discussed.
On Thursday, May 6th, Scottish general elections are taking place. Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to hold an independence referendum by the end of 2023 if her party wins a majority.
What we are following today
North Korea Policy. North Korea accused US President Joe Biden of its latest congressional speech, in which he described the country's security program as a threat to diplomacy and deterrence in a statement released on Sunday. Kwon Jong Gun, a senior State Department official, said Biden made a "big mistake" and North Korea will respond with "appropriate action". The comments come just days after the Biden government finalized a policy review on the country. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the policy could include diplomacy but would seek to avoid the mistakes of previous US administrations.
Deal or no deal. US officials on Sunday denied an Iranian report on a prisoner exchange with their Iranian counterparts, saying negotiations on a US return to the 2015 nuclear deal had not yet achieved a breakthrough. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told ABC News the two sides were "a reasonable distance to fill the remaining loopholes" in terms of easing US sanctions and restrictions on Iran's nuclear program. Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, who wrote on Twitter, said he was cautiously optimistic that an agreement could be reached within the month. Separately, State Department spokesman Ned Price said a prisoner exchange report was "not true".
El Salvador’s justice. El Salvador lawmakers voted to remove five influential Supreme Court judges and the attorney general over the weekend, something Blinken said with "great concern". The motions to recall officials were passed with a large majority in El Salvador's legislative term, which was governed by President Nayib Bukele's New Ideas party after a sweeping election victory in February. Bukele addressed the international community on Twitter and rejected complaints about the move. "With all due respect: we clean the house … and that's none of your business," said Bukele.
Colombia’s tax proposals. Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez has withdrawn a controversial tax proposal after days of mass protests across the country. In a video on Sunday, the president said he would propose a new policy "that is the result of consensus to avoid financial uncertainty." Under the tax plan now put in place, more Colombians would have had to pay income tax, and VAT would have been extended to certain goods and services. The president had sold the tax reforms to save Colombia's national credit rating, which is likely to slide further if no agreement can be reached.
Vaccine access. U.S. Sales Representative Katherine Tai will begin talks with the World Trade Organization to better distribute COVID-19 vaccines. The issue was raised in October by India and South Africa, who joined dozens of poorer countries in calling for the abolition of intellectual property to help accelerate vaccine access. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain made the announcement on CBS News Sunday but did not elaborate on it. "We'll have more to say about it in the coming days," said Klain.
Biden wasted little time filling his cabinet and filling key teams to tackle the administration’s top priorities. As he spends his 100th day in office, the teams articulate and implement his agenda. FP Analytics – the foreign policy research division – created the Biden Power Map, which allows you to keep track of who is who in the Biden administration and how they advance foreign policy across key agenda items, creating new areas of influence for US foreign policy. Discover it here.
Scientists in Poland have discovered the first known case of a pregnant Egyptian mummy after decades of recording the remains of a male priest. Wojciech Ejsmond, director of the Warsaw Mummy Project, told the New York Times that the "absolutely unexpected" find occurred while researchers were examining the mummy's pelvic area – believed to be from the first century BC – and found an "anomaly". on closer inspection these were the remains of a fetus. "It's like finding a treasure trove while picking mushrooms in a forest," said Ejsmond. "We are overwhelmed by this discovery."