Leadership in a Time of Crisis

(Bloomberg) --

The coronavirus impact is pervasive. Schools, bars and restaurants are closed, sporting and other events canceled. Broadway shut. Italy resembles a ghost country under a nationwide lockdown.

Governments and central bank officials are arguing in Europe over how to mitigate the economic hit. And more politicians are being directly affected, right as people want reassurance.

The Canadian prime minister is in self-quarantine as his wife has the virus. Brazil’s president is being tested. His communications secretary – who recently met Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago – is infected.

Top Iranian officials have not just contracted the virus – they’ve died from it. The head of one of Italy’s ruling coalition parties has it. So does an Australian minister who met Ivanka Trump in Washington last week.

Among the challenges these and other leaders face is how to stay visible and communicate effectively in a time of crisis, when social media rumors are rife and panic buying leaves shoppers brawling in the aisles amid empty supermarket shelves.

Broader political business is also being affected, with multilateral meetings ditched or held virtually. U.K. and European Union negotiators won’t meet in London next week to talk post-Brexit arrangements. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party delayed a conference to choose a new leader. France says weekend municipal elections will go ahead, but expect turnout to be affected.

The pandemic has transformed the way Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Trump are campaigning as the U.S. presidential race enters a key phase. Biden and Sanders are scheduled to hold their first one-on-one debate — sans audience — Sunday in Arizona ahead of that state’s March 17 primary.

The more the virus drags on, the more challenges it generates. These next months may test leaders more than they currently imagine.

Leadership in a Time of Crisis

Global Headlines

Who’s in charge? | French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took a rare swipe at the European Central Bank last night after its measures to tackle the fallout from the coronavirus sent markets tumbling. Today governments get their turn, with the European Commission setting out a menu of options for shielding the economy. Viktoria Dendrinou has a rundown of what’s on the table.

Perfect storm | Iran’s rampaging coronavirus outbreak and the collapse in oil prices are presenting the 40-year-old Islamic Republic with an existential crisis. With the approach of the Persian New Year, normally full restaurants and confectioneries are empty as people are too frightened to venture out. Even atomic inspectors need the remote-monitoring powers they received under the beleaguered nuclear deal more than ever.

Deadly attack | The American military hit back at an Iraqi militia believed responsible for the rocket attack that killed two Americans and a Briton on Wednesday. The strike on the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah comes at a difficult time for the leadership in Tehran, which is facing fallout from the downing of a commercial airliner and the killing of anti-government protesters. A previous attack nearly led to a direct military confrontation with Iran.

Walking away | The Trump administration pressured Indonesia into dropping deals to buy Russian-made fighter jets and Chinese naval vessels, part of a global effort to prevent its top adversaries from eroding the U.S.’s military superiority. It shows the U.S. is having some success deterring countries from dealing with Russia and China, which the government has identified as the biggest threats to national security.

Modi dawdles | India’s messy banking system has long been a source of friction between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and the central bank. But even the collapse of the nation’s fourth-largest lender isn’t spurring any urgency to clean things up. The Yes Bank crisis comes as the economy is already set to decelerate to an 11-year low, and there’s rising investor discomfort over worsening religious tensions.

What to Watch

  • U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she’s near an agreement with the Trump administration on a plan to mitigate some of the economic blows from the virus outbreak, with an announcement planned for today.
  • U.S. government lawyers are asking a federal judge for permission to reconsider the Pentagon’s decision to award Microsoft a controversial $10 billion cloud contract after a legal challenge from Amazon.
  • Ivory Coast’s ruling party named Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly as its candidate for October’s presidential election after Alassane Ouattara ruled out seeking a third term in the world's biggest cocoa grower.

Pop quiz, readers (no cheating!). Which leader in the Middle East arrested members of his own family in a bid to consolidate power? Send us your answers and tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at balancepower@bloomberg.net

And finally ... Thirty young South Korean activists are suing their government, claiming that parliament’s recent revision to the nation’s climate-change law doesn’t go far enough to protect their future. The students’ complaint to the Constitutional Court in Seoul argues their fundamental rights, including the right to live and to a clean environment, have been infringed by the law, which doesn’t set specific targets aimed at preventing global temperatures from rising.

Leadership in a Time of Crisis

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