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Forecast Podast: Dozens of Iraqi lawmakers quit parliament as political crisis deepens

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Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Ahmed Namatalla discuss the recent resignations of dozens of Iraqi lawmakers, plus more on the European Commission deciding if it will recommend Ukraine be granted candidate status for EU membership, Colombia’s presidential election runoff, Belarus holding military exercises near Ukraine’s border and the World Health Organization meeting on monkeypox.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Irene Villora, Jeff Landset, Alex Moore, Jess Fino, Agnese Boffano and Ahmed Namatalla.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com.


Podcast Transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is June 16th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got the European Commission weighing in on Ukraine’s efforts to join the EU, Colombia’s presidential election runoff, Belarus holding military exercises near Ukraine’s border, the World Health Organization meeting on monkeypox and a look at the resignation of dozens of Iraqi lawmakers. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

European Commission issues opinion on Ukraine’s candidacy request

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: On Friday, the European Commission – that’s the executive arm of the European Union – well, it’s expected to issue a statement on whether Ukraine should be granted candidate status for EU membership.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen traveled to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Sunday to meet President Zelenskyy. It was her second visit since the start of the war in February. 

During a joint press conference, Von der Leyen expressed optimism about the possibility of the country becoming a member state, but she also stressed the need for Kyiv to carry out further legislative reforms and emphasized that joining the EU must be a “merit-based” process. 

Zelenskyy, of course, has repeatedly urged the EU to approve a Ukrainian membership process since the beginning of the war, arguing that Russian President Vladimr Putin’s offensive on the country is only the beginning of a wider European campaign.

Now, if the commission recommends Ukraine’s candidacy, all 27 governments will hold talks to potentially approve the move at the end of June. 

Some countries like France and Germany have been hesitant toward fast-tracking the decision, on the grounds of fairness to other nations that have been waiting to enter the bloc for years

Still, even if Ukraine wins full endorsement, a lengthy period of legal reforms will begin — Kyiv will have to prove economic resilience to join the single market and take effective steps to meet the democratic standards of the bloc.

Colombia presidential election runoff

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: Colombia will choose a new president on Sunday, which will likely shift the country’s political direction for years to come.

This runoff election comes after no candidate received 50 percent of last month’s vote, so the two leading candidates advanced to Sunday’s round. 

Those candidates are leftist and former M-19 guerrilla rebel Gustavo Petro and former Bucaramanga mayor Rodolfo Hernandez – a man some compare to former U.S. President Donald Trump for his right-wing populist views who built support through social media

Recent polls show a neck-and-neck race between both men. 

Now, whichever candidate wins, experts say the United States could be losing a key ally in the region. 

Petro has talked about ending the U.S.-backed war on drugs and Hernandez has looked at fracking, despite warnings from climate change advocates. 

Of course, allegations of fraud and irregularities are fairly common in Colombia following elections, so whichever candidate loses could inspire protests from his followers, especially in a close election.

Belarus to begin military exercises in region bordering Ukraine

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Belarus will conduct military mobilization exercises beginning this week, according to state media.

The exercises are expected to run from June 22 to July 1 and take place in the southeastern Gomel region. That’s an area that borders Ukraine’s north and served as a launchpad for tens of thousands of Russian soldiers to flood north of Kyiv just months ago. 

These drills follow the creation of a new military command specific to southern Belarus. The drills also come amid increased activity of Belarusian military assets moving in the direction of the border.

Now, while Belarus served as a vital staging ground for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s north and has been a launch site for hundreds of Russian missiles into Ukraine, Minsk never fully joined the active hostilities. 

Still, tensions are sure to be high in the border region during the exercises. There’s still the threat of Russian forces in Belarus re-invading Ukraine’s north as missile strikes on Ukraine’s bordering Chernihiv region persist. 

What seems more likely, however, is that Russia is using the threat of a renewed Kyiv offensive to force Ukraine to commit resources to defending the north. That, as Moscow pushes to consolidate control of the east.

WHO emergency meeting on monkeypox

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: The World Health Organization will convene an emergency committee on Thursday. It will decide whether monkeypox should be classified a public health emergency of international concern.

Cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in more than 30 countries since May, including seven countries where the virus is endemic. 

Earlier this month, Germany stepped up its response by recommending Imvanex vaccinations to all adults with increased risk of monkeypox exposure or infection. 

Meanwhile, the EU has said it will sign an agreement with an unnamed manufacturer for around 110,000 doses of a monkeypox vaccine to be delivered at the end of June.

Now, W.H.O. director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said it was time to convene about monkeypox because the virus is now behaving unusually, more countries are affected, and there is a need for international coordination.

If the status of the outbreak is raised, the WHO will be able to better coordinate the research and response to the virus and the distribution of vaccines.

Dozens of Iraqi MPs resign

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano and Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the recent resignations of dozens of Iraqi lawmakers. For more on that I spoke with our Middle East and Africa desk lead Ahmed Namatalla.

JIMMY: Hello, Ahmed. 

AHMED: Hello, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Ahmed, I’m hoping you can catch us up to speed on a few things today. You know, lawmakers quitting isn’t unheard of, but news broke this past Sunday that dozens have resigned from the Iraqi parliament. You know, what’s going on there?

AHMED: This past Sunday 73 Iraqi lawmakers resigned. They are supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr. Muqtada Al-Sadr is a nationalist who promotes himself as someone who is anti-Iran and anti-US at the same time and so he’s gained a lot of support on running on that platform and his supporters were able to win the most seats in parliament, but not an outright majority. So currently, or before they resigned, they held 73 out of more than 300 seats.

JIMMY: So that’s it then? The 73 lawmakers are just out?

AHMED: Yes. It follows months of deadlock in parliament. The resignations were accepted by the parliament speaker, although there are some who say that, no, the resignations still have to be accepted, voted on by parliament. Really, Iraqis are, I mean, in a case like this, you can expect it to go either way. They could either be considered final or there could be some backdoor negotiations where they find a legal route to bring these parliamentarians back into the chamber if they’re able to reach some sort of agreement.

JIMMY: Well, assuming the resignations are finalized, what happens next?

AHMED: No one really knows. Because it could – it could be that there are multiple scenarios possible. But, basically, you have Muqtada Al-Sadr, who’s trying to, you know, form what he calls a nonsectarian government. So, up until this point, Iraq’s government has been, really – cabinet posts have been assigned based on people’s backgrounds, right? So you have the Sunnis, the Shias, and the Kurds and he wants to get – he wants to get rid of all of this, and he wants to promote, you know, a nationalist government that is inclusive of everybody. So that’s his idea. Practically speaking, it hasn’t worked. He’s tried to make allies with the Sunnis and the Kurds to face the Iran-backed Shia groups, but he’s still short of the two-thirds majority needed to form a government and to select the president. And after months of this deadlock, he decided to, in my opinion, really, call the bluff of the Shia parties that are backed by Iran. He’s basically saying, here, you guys take this mess and you do what you want with it since you don’t want me to have this government. It doesn’t mean that he’s going to go away completely. He’s going to be certainly a force, whether in the political realm or on the street. So it’s really unclear where we go from here. One thing that he did make clear today is that he said that he won’t participate in the process, currently or in the future, if elections are held, if those who are “corrupt” are also participating. And so that’s kind of a wide claim to make and depends on who he thinks is corrupt and who isn’t. But obviously, this is now impacting the whole country.

JIMMY: Well, besides just looking for these lawmakers to be replaced, what else should folks be watching for?

AHMED: They should be watching Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Twitter account, because he’s on there and he tweets often. And previously, his tweets have been mostly, you know, just, you know, nationalist rah rahs and, you know, congratulations to this or that person. Now we should be watching that account more closely. He has given direction to his supporters in the past, whether to participate in protests or to step back, take certain actions. That’s also the account where he has threatened the use of force in the past. So that’s one thing to watch out for. And then also what happens on the ground because, according to the constitution, you know, if everything proceeds as we’re seeing it right now, the second highest vote-getters behind the people who resigned would get their seats and that would give control to the Iran-backed Shia groups. It’s not clear whether that is really going to happen or not, but if it does, we could see protests. It really is anybody’s guess what could happen then. But the potential for instability inside the halls of parliament and on the streets of Baghdad and other major cities is certainly there.

JIMMY: Well, Ahmed, unfortunately we’re out of time, but as usual I appreciate your insight into things. Thank you. 

AHMED: Thank you, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Irene Villora, Jeff Landset, Alex Moore, Jess Fino and Agnese Boffano. Our interview featured editor Ahmed Namatalla and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com.

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed

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