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Forecast: Singapore and China hold joint naval drills, Israeli Knesset returns from recess, and insecurity rises in Mali after attack on military base

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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.

An attack targeting a military base in central Mali last weekend left at least 10 civilians dead and dozens more injured. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Sophie Perryer discuss the military operations against insurgent groups in Mali and how the violence may impact the country’s plan to return to civilian rule. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform.

Week of April 28-May 5
A Look Ahead

April 28 – Singapore-China joint naval drills 

Singapore and China will hold joint naval drills for four days starting Friday, their first combined military exercises since 2021. 

What’s happened so far
The upcoming drills are the second iteration of the flagship Exercise Maritime Cooperation between China and Singapore, and the first since 2015. China and Singapore’s navies also held smaller-scale exercises in 2021 at the southern tip of the South China Sea, following a 2019 upgrade to a bilateral defense agreement that included upsizing drills between the countries’ armies, navies and air forces. 

The impact 
Neither country has confirmed exactly where the exercises will be held, but Chinese state media has reported that its navy will stay in Singapore from late April until early May, when officials will attend IMDEX Asia. The drills come amid a period of heightened tensions between the United States and China in the region, as both countries attempt to strengthen their influence in the disputed South China Sea.

April 29 – Imran Khan due back in court on graft case  

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is due to appear in court again on Saturday.

What’s happened so far 
The incumbent chairman of Pakistan’s PTI political party, Khan is due to appear in court after having his case adjourned a month ago. The trial relates to an investigation into allegations of corruption involving gifts received by Khan during his term as prime minister from 2018 to 2022 that he sold off. 

The impact 
Last October, Khan was barred by Pakistan’s electoral commission from running for office in the wake of the gift-selling investigation. An arrest order was subsequently issued but has since been repealed by additional courts in late-March. Khan’s court appearance risks escalating open confrontations between the PTI leader and Pakistan’s elite establishment, which includes the powerful military. Moves to arrest Khan also risk inflaming wide-scale protests among supporters of Khan and the PTI.

April 30 – General elections in Paraguay  

On Sunday, 5 million Paraguayans will head to the polls in the country’s eighth general election. 

What’s happened so far 
Polls indicate a tight race between the two main candidates: Santiago Pena of the ruling right-wing Colorado Party and Efraín Alegre, leader of the Concertación Nacional de Paraguay, a broad coalition of liberal, center right and left parties. Aside from the presidential vote, the elections also include legislative members and governorships across the country. Pena has tackled insecurity and drug trafficking, while solidifying Paraguayan traditions and the economy as his main talking points. On the other side, Alegre has campaigned on the back of several corruption scandals that have targeted current President Mario Abdo Benitez’s cabinet and former President Horacio Cartes, and the country’s foreign policy toward China and Taiwan

The impact 
In one of the tightest races in the country’s history, the Paraguayan people have a choice of maintaining the status quo with the Colorado Party or voting in the opposition for the next five years, which has been successful in dethroning the hegemony of the Colorado Party only once before in 2008. The corruption scandals targeting Cartes, who has been sanctioned by the United States, and Benitez’s party have involved suspicions of aiding and abetting drug traffickers and profiting from such activity, reaching several unsuccessful impeachment attempts. 

April 30 – Israeli Knesset returns

Lawmakers will reconvene in Jerusalem on Sunday following a month-long recess for Passover, with a controversial proposed overhaul to Israel’s judicial system looming in the summer session. 

What’s happened so far 
The plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to weaken the Supreme Court has triggered widespread protests and condemnation, forcing him to delay the reform package in hopes of reaching a compromise. Proponents claim the changes are necessary to rein in an activist judiciary, while critics say the efforts would give too much power to the governing right-wing coalition at the expense of the existing system of checks and balances.  

The impact 
Demonstrations are likely to continue, with opponents calling for the judicial reform proposal to be scrapped entirely. Earlier protests and an unprecedented nationwide strike brought the country to a near standstill in late March, a potential signifier of things to come should parliament OK the plan.  

April 30 – Uzbekistan constitutional referendum  

Uzbekistan will hold a constitutional referendum on Sunday after plans to hold it last December faltered due to deadly protests.

What’s happened so far 
Initiated by President Shavkat Mirziyoev last summer, the constitutional changes would essentially “nullify” the president’s last two terms, allowing him to run again and opening up a path for him to potentially stay in office until 2040. The amendments would change about two-thirds of the constitution, including declaring the former Soviet republic a “social state.”

The impact 
The changes initially proposed abolishing the country’s Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic’s right to secede, sparking mass protests and a subsequent crackdown that left at least 21 people dead last July. After backtracking on the proposed changes related to Karakalpakstan, the amendments are expected to be approved by a majority.

May 1 – Labor Day in France

A new day of nationwide mobilization against France’s controversial pension reform will take place on Labor Day on Monday, the 13th national strike and the first since the reform passed into law.

What’s happened so far 
Ahead of Labor Day, fresh demonstrations have been taking place in what unions called a “little warm-up before May 1.” On April 20, according to the labor unions, some 5,000 demonstrators marched in Rennes against the pension reform, which came into law last month despite nationwide protests and fierce opposition by other political parties. 

The impact 
French President Emmanuel Macron enacted the pension-law change, raising retirement age to 64 via official gazette last month, with the law expected to come into effect by the start of September. Unions have pledged to continue to take to the streets and have invited all workers, youth and retirees to join en masse on Labor Day, with large marches expected to take place across multiple cities.

May 1 – President Biden hosts Philippine president  

U.S. President Joe Biden will host Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. at the White House on Monday amid regional tensions with China.

What’s happened so far 
Marcos, the son of the former dictator of the Philippines, was easily elected president last June despite a campaign accused of spreading vast amounts of misinformation, including lies about human rights abuses that happened during his father’s regime. Over the course of Marcos’ presidency, he has drawn the country closer to the United States by making foreign policy decisions aimed at the Chinese government amid a territorial dispute in the South China Sea. He helped facilitate the largest-ever joint U.S.-Philippines military drills there and gave the U.S. military access to four new defense sites. He also speculated that the Philippines would get involved if China invades Taiwan

The impact
As the Philippines has reestablished stronger ties with the United States, it is asking for some further reassurances. Marcos has told local media he plans to press Biden on specifics regarding a 1951 defense treaty as Beijing has steadily been building up its military. Some artificial islands now house missile systems capable of hitting the Philippines. As the Philippines shows more strength in the region while backed by the United States, it increases the odds of a confrontation in the South China Sea.

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May 4 – U.K. local elections 

Voters across England will weigh in on Thursday in a series of local elections in what could be a key measure of support for the country’s political parties. 

What’s happened so far 
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Conservative Party face their first electoral test since he took office last year with 8,000 seats across 230 councils in England as well as a number of mayoral seats in play. It’s also a major test for the Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer, as they seek a strong showing to back up their recent historically high poll numbers and try to sell themselves as a party of government. Liberal Democrat candidates will also look to harness local issues and apathy for the two larger parties in an effort to garner support. The Conservatives, defending more seats than Labour and the Liberal Dems combined, have the most to lose.

The impact 
With a general election as far as 18 months away, the local elections are not an immediate danger to either party leader. However, election day might highlight another problem, as voters in England will have to show photographic ID at their polling station for the first time. The move, criticized by rights groups, may lead to those without ID being unable to vote. Starting in October, this requirement will also apply to U.K. general elections.

What Else Matters

Juan Guaidó out in a crowd of people along a street. He is wearing a Venezuela national baseball team jersey.
Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaidó meets with citizens in Aragua in the country’s north on March 11, 2023. (Photo: Juan Guaidó / Facebook)

Mali military base attack 

At least 10 civilians and dozens of apparent militants were killed in several incidents in central Mali on Saturday, underscoring the deterioration of the security situation in the junta-run West African nation. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the “complex attack” targeting a military base and airport in Sevare, which killed at least 10 people and wounded 61 others, according to the country’s military. The Malian army simultaneously said it killed at least 60 militants in operations in the same region. A military helicopter also crashed in the capital Bamako, killing three soldiers and wounding six civilians. 

Watch for: It’s unclear whether Saturday’s army operations and militant attacks involved the same militant group, although multiple linked organizations including al-Qaida’s Mali branch are known to operate in the area. Some reports suggested the military base housed mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group, who are apparently stationed in Mali to support the government’s operations against militant organizations. Meanwhile, Mali’s military junta indefinitely postponed a constitutional referendum, seen as a first step to returning the country to civilian rule, citing insecurity that would prevent polls from taking place safely.

Juan Guaidó flees Venezuela 

Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaidó said earlier this week that he was on a plane heading to the United States from Colombia after being expelled from the neighboring country where a summit to address Venezuela’s crisis and political impasse was set to take place. Guaidó crossed into Colombia on foot to seek meetings with international representatives participating in the summit. Guaidó also denied on Monday that his decision to leave the country was determined by a series of death threats against him and his family and maintained that he had been invited to engage in talks with participants of the summit in Bogotá. According to Colombian officials Guaidó illegally entered the country through the land border on Monday and was transferred to Bogotá’s El Dorado airport to use a Miami-bound plane ticket that he had purchased himself. 

Watch for: After Guaidó’s expulsion, Colombia’s foreign minister also clarified that he had not been invited to the talks. The Venezuelan regime banned Guaidó from leaving the country in 2019 after he challenged President Nicolás Maduro by self-proclaiming interim president of the country. Since then, the opposition figure, who once chaired the opposition-majority National Assembly, has lost support from international players and from members of the Venezuelan opposition who voted him out of the parliament’s presidency. The Colombian government is acting as a bridge between the international community and Venezuela to pave the way for democratic elections in 2024 after Norway-mediated negotiations failed in Mexico last year.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

April 28-May 5

April 28

  • Pope Francis to visit Hungary
  • Singapore-China joint naval drills

April 29

  • Sita Navami Hindu Festival
  • Imran Khan due back in court on gift case

April 30

  • Uzbekistan constitutional referendum
  • Israeli Knesset returns from recess
  • General elections in Paraguay
  • Sita Navami Hindu Festival

May 1

  • U.S. House speaker addresses Israeli Knesset
  • May Day
  • President Biden hosts Philippine president

May 4

  • U.K. local elections

May 5

  • Buddha Purnima Buddhist Festival

May 6-12 

May 7 

  • Early voting begins in Thailand general elections
  • Election of representatives to write new constitution draft in Chile

May 8

  •  Japan ends coronavirus border control

May 11

  • President Biden ends COVID-19 emergency declaration

May 13-19 

May 14

  • Thailand general elections
  • Turkey general elections

May 16

  • Council of Europe summit
  • Peace negotiations between Colombian government and FARC
  • Strike of judges and attorneys in Spain

May 19

  • Summit of Arab leaders

May 20-26 

May 21

  • Timor-Leste elections
  • Greece elections

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