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Unrest and a nationwide strike gripped Israel as hundreds of thousands of people protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Agnese Boffano discuss the protests around the reforms and how they’re likely to continue despite Netanyahu temporarily freezing the plans.
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Week of March 31-April 7
A Look Ahead
March 31 – World Athletics bans transgender athletes from female events
Starting Friday, the global governing body for track and field is banning athletes who experienced male puberty before transitioning from entering female World Rankings competitions, claiming it is prioritizing the “integrity of female competition.”
What’s happened so far
World Athletics has also set stricter requirements for athletes with so-called disorders of sexual development, requiring testosterone levels below 2.5 nanomoles per liter of blood for at least 24 months to be eligible for female international events. Previously, a higher testosterone cutoff was in place for restricted events ranging from the 400 meter to the mile.
In the interim, World Athletics announced athletes currently competing in “restricted events” have to keep testosterone levels below 2.5 nanomoles for at least six months to be able to compete again. The decision would restrict participation of athletes who identify as trans as well as those with naturally high levels of testosterone such as Caster Semenya, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi. Semenya has in the past refused hormone therapy due to harsh side effects. The sports body claims it is setting up “a working group” to examine “transgender inclusion.”
April 1 – Russia assumes presidency of U.N. Security Council
Russia will assume leadership and administrative control of the United Nations’ highest security body Saturday, while continuing to wage war in Ukraine.
What’s happened so far
The presidency of the Security Council rotates on a monthly basis around its 15 members in alphabetical order. The last time Russia held the position was in February 2022, when it launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine. Efforts to remove Russia from the body have proved futile given it has veto power as one of the five permanent members.
While the Security Council presidency is predominantly an administrative and symbolic role, Ukraine has called on the U.N. to bar Russia from the role because of its actions in the conflict. In one of its first acts as chair, Russia is reportedly planning to call an informal meeting to discuss the Ukrainian children taken to Russia amid the war, following the ICC issuing an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin for war crimes over these children’s apparent kidnapping.
April 1 – Twitter ends legacy verification system
It may be harder to identify notable Twitter users Saturday after Elon Musk ends the site’s legacy verification system, instead requiring people pay $8 monthly to keep their blue check.
What’s happened so far
Ever since Musk took over the social media site, he said he wants to “level the playing field” between journalists and regular citizens. He also declared war against bots on the site, calling Twitter Blue a way to verify people using the site are human. The initial launch was a failure with people using the subscription service to impersonate celebrities and companies, including a tweet from a fake Eli Lilly account announcing insulin was free. In the wake of that, Musk’s giving Twitter Blue subscribers more power on the site. He announced that only verified users could vote in polls, which he has historically used to make policy decisions, like unbanning former President Donald Trump.
Despite Musk’s stated desire to make Twitter a haven for free speech, critics say he’s turning it into a right-wing echo chamber with the potential for misinformation and abuse. Twitter Blue may also serve as a desperately needed source of revenue for the company. A recent report found that hundreds of Twitter’s top advertisers like Coca-Cola, Unilever and Wells Fargo had pulled their ad dollars through most of January.
April 2 – Bulgaria elections
Bulgarians will once again vote in parliamentary elections Sunday following October’s failed polls.
What’s happened so far
Sunday’s polls will be Bulgaria’s fifth election in two years and the first since last October’s elections that ultimately failed to produce a government in a deadlocked parliament. Similar electoral precedents in Europe date back more than a century when Denmark held three elections in the span of five months.
Institutional trust among Bulgarians has cratered following the flurry of elections and ultimate governmental impasse. With distrust of Bulgarian political parties surpassing 80 percent, voter turnout in last October’s elections plummeted to just 39 percent, the lowest since its 1990 vote. Little is projected to change this time around, with turnout again forecasted to be around 40 percent with the right-wing GERB-led coalition projected to win a plurality that is nowhere near a majority. Given this, there is risk for anti-government protests similar to those that erupted in 2020.
April 2 – Montenegro runoff
After no candidates secured enough votes in the first round of elections, Montenegro will head to a run-off to elect its new president Sunday.
What’s happened so far
According to preliminary results, incumbent President Milo Djukanovic, who has been in power either as president or prime minister since the country’s independence in 2006, secured 35 percent of the vote, the lowest percentage in his career. Jakov Milatovic, former economy minister and member of the new “Europe Now!” party, received 27 percent of the vote in the first round. Andrija Mandic, head of the Democratic Front and pro-Serb and pro-Russian politician, announced support of Milatovic after securing just 19 percent of the vote.
Djukanovic is reportedly trying to mobilize national minority voters after not securing enough votes to win a majority on March 19 despite ethnic Bosniak, Albanian and Croatian parties voicing their support. The elections come after a year of political crisis with several no-confidence votes in the government. Political analysts have said the vote will also determine whether the country remains within the framework of foreign policy priorities or whether it moves closer to Russian-Serbian influence.
April 2 – Finland elections
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin faces a tough reelection battle as the country heads to the polls to elect a new parliament Sunday.
What’s happened so far
In order to form a new government and appoint a prime minister, a party or coalition of parties need to win 101 of the 200 seats that make up the Finnish parliament. Lawmakers in the chamber represent 13 electoral districts. The three main contenders in this election are the ruling left-wing Social Democratic Party (SDP) led by Marin, the fiscally and socially conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) led by Petteri Orpo, and the nationalist Finns Party led by Riika Purra, which Marin has described as “openly racist” due to its anti-immigration discourse.
This election takes place during an economic recession and a rising cost of living with Finland in the midst of a bid to join NATO after neighboring Russia invaded Ukraine (members’ link) last year. The NCP leads the latest polls with more than 20 percent of support followed by SDP with 19 percent, a narrow gap that is likely to translate into talks to form a coalition government after the election. Both NCP and SDP leaders expressed willingness to negotiate if neither achieves absolute majority.
April 4 – Chicago mayoral runoff
Residents of Chicago will vote Tuesday to choose either Brandon Johnson or Paul Vallas as their next mayor in the second round of polls.
What’s happened so far
Incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s become the first Chicago mayor to lose reelection in 40 years in February, finishing third in the first round of voting. Many blamed surging crime, despite a decline in 2022, and strife with the teacher’s union. Just ahead of Lightfoot was Brandon Johnson, a Black progressive who organized the 2012 teachers strike before being elected as Cook County commissioner. Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, a moderate, also advanced to the runoff with a leading 32 percent.
Recent polling suggests the race is close, with Vallas slightly ahead. Vallas has benefited from being vocally tough on crime and was endorsed by the police union. His campaign targeted Johnson for previous comments on police funding and his alleged support of a city income tax. Johnson’s polling numbers do show the race narrowing as prominent progressives leaders such as Bernie Sanders and Jesse Jackson, as well as the Chicago teachers union, endorse the 47-year-old.
What Else Matters
On Monday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed his controversial judicial reform legislation until April 30 when the Knesset is set to come back from recess for Passover. This comes following weeks of anti-government protests across Israel that culminated with strikes that halted all departures from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. The governing right-wing coalition, however, did manage to significantly advance two sets of laws before announcing the delay. On March 23, the Knesset passed the final reading of a law preventing Israel’s Supreme Court from declaring a prime minister unfit to serve, and later passed all necessary procedures on a law aimed to change the way judges are appointed.
Watch for: Members of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition as well as the opposition parties are expected to assist a series of talks hosted by President Isaac Herzog in the coming days before the Knesset breaks for recess on April 5. In exchange for his support of the delay, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a key ally of Netanyahu’s coalition and national security minister, took control of Israel’s national guard, which critics claim will be used as his “personal militia.” Analysts say these protests are expected to continue, however, despite promised talks and political compromises with Knesset Members, as Ben-Gvir supporters begin to rally and hold counter-protests similar to those Monday evening that injured at least one person in Tel Aviv.
Pakistan food crisis
Pakistan is in the midst of a food and hunger crisis, compounded by multiple complex issues, including a wheat shortage that has inflated the price of flour, a staple. In February, the country saw the highest Consumer Price Index rate since 1974, driven by a 45 percent increase in food and beverage prices year-on-year. The 2022 summer floods damaged more than nine million acres of crops and killed a million livestock animals. As the country waits to hammer out a deal with the International Monetary Fund, it has just enough foreign reserves to pay for two months of imports.
Watch for: The country is bracing for violent disruptions, stampedes and deaths at food aid distribution points. In recent days, at least eight people reportedly died and dozens more were injured in stampedes and similar events at flour distribution centers, according to local media. No official tally has been shared so far. Videos show desperate crowds raiding trucks carrying free flour amid fears of shortages. Such events have been reported dating back to January. As the country observes the Islamic month of fasting, retailers are hiking food prices even higher in a long-standing practice of price gouging during Ramadan.
Chemical spill in Delaware River
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday that the city’s water was safe to drink and that “the threat has passed” after an apparent equipment failure at a Bristol plant caused approximately 8,000 gallons of latex finishing solution to spill into a tributary of the Delaware River over the weekend. The spill had briefly prompted officials to advise residents to use bottled water Sunday out of an “abundance of caution.”
Watch for: Enhanced monitoring of the Delaware River and the Baxter treatment plant that serves just over half of Philadelphia will continue, while the city plans to reevaluate its messaging for future advisories after a run on bottled water following the public safety alert. Specialty chemical maker Trinseo, which operates the manufacturing facility, says it expects to resume production in the coming days and will “make improvements as necessary.”
What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…
March 31-April 7
- Oscar Pistorius parole hearing
- Twitter ends legacy verification system
- Russia assumes presidency of UN Security Council
- Bulgaria elections
- Finnish parliament election
- Andorra parliamentary elections
- Montenegro election runoff
- Chicago runoff
- British passport officers begin five weeks of strike action
- NATO foreign ministers to meet in Brussels
- Passover begins
- French President Emmanuel Macron makes a state visit to the Netherlands
- UK civil servants strike
- Brazil’s president expected to travel to China
- French Constitutional Council to rule on pension bill
- Boston Marathon
- Portugal to host bilateral summit with Brazil
- London Marathon
- South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol visits Washington
- Greece hosts annual economic conference in Delphi
- Pope Francis to visit Hungary
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