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Forecast: Slovakia opposition seeks to collapse government, Latin American leaders meet in Argentina, and WHO reviews COVID-19 emergency

A crowded train station in China

Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

President Biden is facing his first major controversy since Republicans retook control of the U.S. House after more than a dozen Obama-era classified documents were found in his former office and Delaware home. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Jeff Landset discuss the status of the investigation into the situation and how it threatens to derail Biden’s political agenda. Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of January 20 – 27
A Look Ahead

Jan. 21 – Slovakia referendum  

Slovakia will hold an opposition-initiated referendum Saturday seeking to trigger the collapse of the government.

What’s happened so far 
Opposition parties delivered a petition with the requisite amount of signatures to initiate a referendum in late-August, seeking constitutional changes to allow the parliaments to collapse the government while also attempting to trigger the collapse of the current government. Slovak referendums require at least 50 percent voter turnout, a figure that opinion polls are doubtful will be met this time around. 

The impact 
The vote follows a no-confidence vote in parliament that collapsed the majority government toward the end of 2022 and could trigger a process that would see former populist Prime Minister Robert Fico take a central role in Slovak politics once again. Fico could pursue a hardline against support for Ukraine and its refugees in opposition to the pro-western policies of President Zuzana Čaputová.

Jan. 22 – Lunar New Year

China is set to celebrate the Lunar New Year on Sunday, the first major holiday after coronavirus-related restrictions were abruptly loosened around the end of last year.

What’s happened so far 
After more than two years of zero-coronavirus policy, restrictions were loosened in wake of protests that gripped parts of the country in December, leading to a rapid rise in cases which caused global alarm. Many millions of people are expected to travel, with those living in cities returning to their hometowns and stoking fears of a new wave of infections and deaths.

The impact 
The World Health Organization called on China to increase transparency and release more data on coronavirus-related infections and deaths ahead of the expected travel rush around the holiday. China released data Saturday detailing that nearly 60,000 people had died since the loosening of restrictions in December, a figure thought by some experts to be a tenth of the true total.

Jan. 22 – Bolivia’s Plurinational State Day 

Bolivia will celebrate its Plurinational State Day, which commemorates the 2009 promulgation of Bolivia’s current constitution, on Sunday as protests continue in the south of the country.

What’s happened so far 
Bolivian trade unions have called marches nationwide on Sunday to show support for the government amid ongoing protests across the south over the arrest of opposition figure Luis Fernando Camacho, accused of participating in the 2019 ouster of former President Evo Morales (member’s link). The unions describe the demonstrations, which started ahead of Camacho’s arrest with demands to bring forward the national census (member’s link), as an attempt to destabilize the country. The unions have also declared themselves in a “state of emergency and permanent mobilization,” claiming anti-government protests could derive into a coup attempt. 

The impact 
The marches will conclude with a rally in La Paz where President Luis Arce is expected to give a speech on national unity and economic stability. Celebrations will extend into Monday with events also held outside Bolivia. Morales will attend commemoration ceremonies and meetings with leaders of social movements in Argentina after claiming the current Bolivian government did not invite him to take part in national festivities. Opposition sectors have not announced counter-protests for the day but will hold marches in all national capitals on Jan. 25 to reject police brutality and to demand the release of those arrested during demonstrations.

Jan. 24 – Latin American and Caribbean states summit  

Argentina will host leaders from more than 30 countries Tuesday during a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). 

What’s happened so far
The summit takes place after Argentina’s interim presidency of the bloc in 2022, marked by the transition to post-pandemic policies in the region. This year’s meeting will take place amid socio-political instability in many participating countries, with the presidents of Perú, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile, among others, facing internal turmoil amid an increasingly virulent political polarization in South America. The potential presences and absences during the summit hint at what diplomatic relations between CELAC states could look like in the immediate future. Brazil’s new President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will rejoin the group after his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro withdrew in 2020. Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel are expected to attend but will only confirm a day before the summit amid “security concerns.”

The impact 
During the summit, the next presiding nation of CELAC will be chosen. In 2021, member countries committed to voting for Saint Vincent and The Grenadines to hold the position in 2023 in exchange for the Caribbean archipelago not blocking Argentina’s 2022 presidency after a row with Nicaragua, but it remains unclear whether a consensus will be achieved. Argentina and Brazil are also expected to announce a bilateral agreement on energy, economic activity, politics and finance. 

Jan. 25 – Egypt revolution anniversary 

Wednesday will mark the 12th anniversary of the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt.

What’s happened so far 
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in 2011 in what they called a “day of rage” against the then-dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak and the poverty, political repression and corruption prevalent in the country. That day marked the beginning of Egypt’s revolution in the region-wide pro-democracy movement known as the Arab Spring. The repression to the uprisings, which were successful in toppling Mubarak, is estimated to have left at least 300 people dead.

The impact 
Twelve years on from the Arab Spring and under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt is now experiencing the country’s worst human rights record and is among the world’s largest jailor of journalists. Security reinforcement is expected across populated areas of main metropolitan cities Wednesday, despite anti-government sentiment being near-impossible to express from within the country. Analysts have expressed doubt that there is space for nationwide pro-democracy protests to take place in 2023.

Jan. 25 – Spain and Morocco set to open customs in Melilla and Ceuta

On Wednesday, Spain and Morocco are set to announce the opening of commercial customs between the Spanish autonomous cities Melilla and Ceuta and Morocco. 

What’s happened so far 
In 2018, Morocco unilaterally closed the commercial customs border it had with Melilla, amid growing tensions between the two countries mostly over immigration. In April 2022, both countries created a roadmap in order to foment stronger relationships between the two, which has now led to the first high level meeting scheduled for February. Spanish President Pedro Sánchez and a variety of ministers will travel to Rabat to discuss a plethora of diplomatic and economic agreements. 

The impact 
The early February meeting is the first one of its kind since 2015, and indicates the commitment both have to strengthen the – at times – tumultuous relationship. This was further solidified when Algeria cut ties with Spain after the latter diverged from its typical neutrality and backed Morocco on the Western Sahara dispute. While Ceuta has never had commercial customs with Morocco by land, citizens of Melilla now have less to fear in terms of economic isolation with the customs reopening. This announcement, and the upcoming meeting between the two Mediterranean countries, is set to improve relations.

Jan. 25 – Tanzania opposition leader plans to end exile

Opposition leader Tundu Lissu will return to Tanzania on Wednesday, weeks after President Samia Suluhu Hassan lifted a six-plus year ban on political rallies

What’s happened so far
Lissu first left the country in 2017 to seek treatment for injuries following an assassination attempt as a member of parliament, He returned in July 2020 to seek the presidency, receiving 13 percent of the vote in an election his opposition CHADEMA party claimed was marred by irregularities. Facing death threats, Lissu was again forced to flee, and has spent the past two years in Belgium. 

The impact 
The end of the rally ban and Lissu’s return, coupled with other efforts by Hassan to roll back some of her predecessor’s most controversial policies, have sparked renewed hopes of a more collaborative political future for the country.

Jan. 27 – WHO meeting to decide on COVID emergency

A World Health Organization panel is slated to meet next Friday to weigh in on whether the coronavirus pandemic should still be considered a global emergency. 

What’s happened so far 
The committee’s meeting comes nearly three years after the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — a formal designation that requires a coordinated international response.

The impact 
While many countries have already eased coronavirus restrictions and are working to return to normal life, some experts say it’s too soon to call an end to the global coronavirus emergency, especially considering the recent huge spike in cases in China. There are also concerns China will see cases surge even higher due to travel associated with the upcoming Lunar New Year period. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will have the final say on whether coronavirus will remain a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.  

What Else Matters

President Biden stands at a podium. Behind him is a large American flag. The lighting is deep red.
President Biden, seen here on Sept. 1, 2022 in Philadelphia, has pledged to cooperate with investigators after classified documents were found his private office and residence. (Photo: Adam Schultz / White House)

Biden classified documents found

The White House pledged to cooperate after approximately 20 classified documents were found in President Joe Biden’s think tank and home. Private attorneys found the first batch less than a week before the midterm elections while clearing out his old office and gave the documents to the National Archives which then notified the Justice Department. Attorneys found more classified documents in December while searching his home in Wilmington, Del. On Jan. 12, Attorney General Merrick Garland named a special counsel to investigate any wrongdoing. The House Judiciary Committee, now led by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, announced an investigation as well.

Watch for: This marks the first Biden scandal since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and could lead to years of investigations and hearings. However, former President Donald Trump’s own classified document scandal could complicate matters as it may seem disingenuous of Republicans to focus on these documents while Trump is accused of having more documents and being uncooperative in the investigation.

French pension reform

France’s government proposed a major overhaul to its pension system last week, including plans to gradually raise the legal retirement age to 64 from 62, a measure deeply unpopular with the country’s unions. For the first time in 12 years, France’s unions united in “total opposition” to the “unfair and unnecessary reform,” calling for a cross-sector strike on Jan. 19, that closed schools and heavily disrupted transportation across the country. The bill is President Emmanuel Macron’s second attempt to pass pension reform through parliament, after a first attempt in 2019 was hampered by massive protests and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Macron insists that pension reform, a cornerstone of his political agenda, is vital to preventing an unsustainable deficit for the country’s generous pension program. 

Watch for: The proposal is expected to be brought to parliament in the coming weeks, where Macron’s centrist government does not have an absolute majority but is hoping for the support of the conservative Les Republicains party. A final vote on the bill could take months. More strikes are also planned, with French oil workers calling for two additional walkouts over the next two weeks, threatening to cause fuel shortages and chaos for drivers.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Jan. 20 – 28

Jan. 20

  • Tunisia parliamentary election run-off campaigning

Jan. 21

  • Slovakia Referendum Election
  • 2023 Winter European Youth Olympic Festival 

Jan. 22

  • Lunar New Year
  • Bolivia’s Plurinational State Day

Jan. 23

  • EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting
  • Brazil’s President Lula da Silva meets with his Argentine counterpart

Jan. 24

  • Latin American and Caribbean states summit

Jan. 25

  • EU justice ministers meet in Stockholm
  • Tanzania opposition leader to end exile
  • Egypt revolution anniversary

Jan. 27

  • WHO meeting to decide on coronavirus emergency

Jan. 29 – Feb. 4

Jan. 29

  • Second round of Tunisian elections

Jan. 30

  • World Health Organization executive board meets

Jan. 31

  • Pope Francis will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan
  • Ghana domestic debt exchange deadline
  • US central bank policy meeting

Feb. 1

  • UK civil servants strike

Feb. 2

  • Bank of England expected to raise interest rate
  • Cardinal Pell interred in Sydney

Feb. 3

  • EU-Ukraine summit

Feb. 4

  • Venice Carnival begins
  • World Cancer Day

Feb. 5 – 11

Feb. 5

  • US Sec. of State Blinken in China
  • EU embargo on Russian oil imports expected
  • Mayoral election in Guayaquil, Ecuador
  • Monaco National Council election
  • 65th Annual Grammy Awards

Feb. 6

  • EU general affairs council meeting
  • UK ambulance workers strike
  • French refinery workers strike

Feb. 7

  • Biden State of the Union address

Feb. 9

  • Special European Council on migration
  • Mexico central bank policy meeting

Feb. 10

  • New York Fashion Week begins
  • New Bank of Japan governor expected

Feb. 12 – 18

Feb. 12

  • Super Bowl LVII

Feb. 15

  • US appeals court weighs NCAA case over pay for athletes
  • EU gas price cap can be triggered

Feb. 17

  • Libya’s Arab Spring revolution anniversary

Feb. 18

  • Nigeria general election
  • Crypto exchange Coinbase halts Japan operations

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