The man who might be Germany’s next chancellor; the end of Brazil’s anti-corruption task force; an election in Ecuador.
The makeover of Markus Söder began before the pandemic: it started with going green. The state premier of Bavaria and current leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (csu) party had been one of Angela Merkel’s biggest foils in the 2015-2016 refugee crisis, an ardent supporter of protecting Germany’s borders. But in 2019, after watching his party’s support base erode in state elections and sensing the winds of change blowing towards the centre-left Greens, Söder embarked on a more climate-friendly approach. He was officially photographed literally embracing a tree in the garden of the state’s chancellery. And, against internal party resistance he pushed the csu, which has governed Bavaria since 1957, to embrace greener policies too.
Söder was also one of Germany’s most outspoken voices for taking coronavirus seriously. And though Bavaria’s handling of the pandemic has been questionable (and he couldn’t resist that eagerness to close borders at times), it’s been enough to make the 54-year-old the most popular politician in the country behind Merkel herself – and put him in serious contention to replace her as chancellor this year.
Yet he’d still have to overcome the political odds. Söder’s csu in Bavaria is the sister party of the national Christian Democratic Union (cdu), which Merkel hails from and which is now led by Armin Laschet, state premier of North-Rhine Westphalia. Ahead of Germany’s federal elections the cdu-csu alliance decides which will field a candidate for chancellor, but one from Söder’s party has never won nationally. “The csu usually has a negative image outside of Bavaria,” says Stefan Wurster, professor of policy analysis at the Technical University of Munich. “But this has changed with Söder.” As for whether Söder’s moderate streak will continue, Wurster says it depends on one thing: can he continue winning elections?
It’s been a tumultuous time for the southern Italian region of Calabria. A snap election was meant to take place in February, following the death of 51-year-old governor Jole Santelli last autumn. But after Calabria was badly hit by a second wave of Covid-19 the vote was delayed until April, then postponed until later in the year. The area is already battling bad press over its crumbling healthcare system that has been exploited by the region’s ’Ndrangheta mafia. Then there’s Calabria’s other ongoing political scandals: former budget councillor Francesco Talarico is accused of voter corruption in 2018, while five arrests were made at the start of March over separate voter irregularities in the municipality of Reggio Calabria.
Ecuador’s presidential run-off vote in April could be less of a signal of the country’s future and more a referendum on its political past. Andrés Arauz, who secured the most votes in the first round, is being endorsed by former president Rafael Correa, a leftist currently in exile in Belgium. Last year, Correa was found guilty of corruption at home and handed an eight-year jail sentence. If his protégé Arauz wins, it’s thought that Correa might return to Ecuador.
Many Latin American leaders hold political sway long after leaving office, often compelling voters to focus on old battles rather than the pressing issues of the day. But support from a predecessor alone might not be enough to convince a majority that Arauz is the best person to fix a country badly hit by the pandemic.
In February, Jair Bolsonaro disbanded the anti-corruption unit behind Operation Car Wash, an investigation that exposed rampant bribery in Brazilian politics and led to the incarceration of politicians and business leaders. Matias Spektor tells monocle what this means for Brazil.
Bolsonaro claims that Brazil is ‘free’ from corruption. Is this true?
Corruption is endemic to Brazilian politics. Bolsonaro has tried to position himself as an insurgent outsider, untainted by dirty bribery deals; he was elected, in part, on an anti-corruption ticket. But he embodies Brazil’s very old way of doing politics, trying to pack major institutions with allies and sack independent investigators from the federal police.
What is behind the president’s decision to shut down the state fraud unit?
When the Car Wash scandal broke in 2014, it nuked Brazil’s ruling class by exposing how illicit funds fuel political campaigns. The old order crumbled and from its wreckage Bolsonaro emerged with an anti-establishment message. All of that changed the minute he assumed office: he quickly moved to protect members of his own family and friends from investigation.
Will the closure of such an operation affect how Brazil is viewed internationally in 2021?
Brazil is performing dismally when it comes to quality of governance and as a place for doing business. Car Wash ending is not going to make a bad situation worse, however. Corruption has been overshadowed by the climate crisis in the Amazon and human-rights abuses during Bolsonaro’s presidency.
But could this move strengthen Bolsonaro’s position in 2021?
His popularity hasn’t been hit from closing the unit, which suggests that corruption allegations involving his family won’t necessarily prevent him from running again in 2022. The president has moved to neutralise institutions that could make his re-election campaign difficult; key allies were nominated to lead the Senate and the lower house in February – a victory for him ahead of next year’s vote.
Image: Alamy. Illustrator: Daniel Triendl