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Forecast: Wildfires force thousands to evacuate in Canada, Ukraine’s Zelenskyy visits Berlin, and Turkey heads to the polls

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, French President Macron, and Federal Chancellor Scholz met at the Élysée Palace in Paris in early February. (Photo: Federal Government / Kugler)

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.

Nearly 30,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes in Alberta, Canada, as more than 100 wildfires burn in the province. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Joe Veyera discuss the destruction the unprecedented fires have caused and what to watch for next. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform.

Week of May 12-19

A Look Ahead

May 13  Zelenskyy visits Berlin  
On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to visit Berlin and Aachen, his first visit to Germany since the war began.

What’s happened so far 
Police last week confirmed the visit and said there would be a large security operation ahead of Zelenskyy’s arrival. He is set to be received by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the country’s capital to discuss the ongoing war and possible German military aide. Hanging over the trip is a German probe into the leak of Zelenskyy’s visit, of which Ukrainian officials have already expressed disapproval.
The impact 
The relationship between the countries since the war began has been somewhat strained, mostly due to the back-and-forth on possible German military support, more recently in the form of tanks. Germany has been attempting to manage the fine balancing of military support and officially staying out of the war. While the probe into the leak continues, a very tight and expansive security operation is expected in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz where Zelenskyy will be staying.

May 14  Armenia, Azerbaijan leaders meet  
The heads of state of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Brussels on Sunday.

What’s happened so far 
The talks, which will be overseen by European Union Council President Charles Michel, follow U.S.-brokered discussions held by the two countries’ foreign ministers after which U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the sides had made “tangible” progress. Both leaders also agreed in the EU statement to meet in Brussels as frequently as necessary to resolve disputes. 
The impact 
Talks seeking to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have thus far made little substantive progress. Issues on the ground remain, most notably Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor that connects Armenia with Yerevan’s Artsakh breakaway state in the disputed region. The blockade has intensified in recent weeks with Baku erecting its first military blockades along the route. Violence continues to periodically erupt along the volatile line of contact following the conclusion of the 2020 war, most recently in mid-April when seven soldiers on both sides were killed in a shootout.

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May 14  Thailand elections  
While power remains concentrated in Thailand’s military, voters will elect 500 members of the lower house of the National Assembly on Sunday.

What’s happened so far 
Thailand has been under effective control of a royalist military junta since a 2014 coup d’etat. Elections to the lower house are governed under the 2017 constitution, which grants the junta full power to appoint the 250-seat Senate and courts. The prime minister is in turn chosen by both the lower house and Senate. The 2019 election saw junta Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha appointed prime minister, despite winning fewer seats than the centrist Pheu Thai party, who support the mid-2000’s elected leader, Thaksin Shinawatra. The leftist, anti-military Future Forward party finished third before being dissolved by the junta in 2020. 
The impact 
After losing control of his party, Chan-ocha is not favored to win a plurality of seats or the prime minister’s job. Instead, polling is strong for the opposition parties Pheu Thai and Move Forward, the successor to Future Forward, while the pro-junta vote is split between three parties. Opposition parties must win a crucial 376 seats combined to overcome the voting power of the Senate and appoint an anti-junta prime minister. Pheu Thai’s current leader, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, is the daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra, and a coalition that threatens to put her in power could be met with democratic backsliding. So while Thailand seems poised to lose their pro-junta prime minister, only a landslide victory for the divided opposition would truly challenge the military. 

May 14  Turkey elections  
Voters in Turkey will go to the polls Sunday for the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces his toughest electoral challenge in 20 years.

What’s happened so far 
The most closely watched contest will be the first round of the presidential election, where the top two candidates will advance to a runoff if they fail to secure a majority of the vote. Erdogan, running for reelection, is facing a significant challenge from the Republican People’s Party’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who was chosen as the opposition candidate by a six-party alliance. Opposition parties have complained of bias during the campaign within the country’s media, which Reporters Without Borders profiles as being 90 percent under government control. Parliamentary elections fall on the same day as the first-round of the presidential election, with all 600 seats in the legislature’s single chamber up for grabs. 
The impact 
If no candidate wins an outright majority, campaigning is likely to intensify ahead of the May 28 runoff with fears that sporadic outbreaks of violence will worsen into outright clashes. Whoever wins the presidency will also have to contend with a new parliament, where Erdogan’s AKP will seek to dominate as the largest party and gain a working majority through agreements if they fall short, which could act as a check on the power of a new president.

May 16  French government and trade union talks  
France’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne will meet leaders of the country’s influential trade unions in two days of talks beginning Tuesday, in an effort to repair relations after the implementation of controversial pension reform legislation. 

What’s happened so far 
The last meeting between French officials and union leaders on April 5 ended after less than an hour with no resolution, while the secretary general of the most powerful CGT union accused the government of being “radicalized, obtuse and disconnected.” On this occasion, Borne is electing to meet with leaders individually rather than all together, perhaps a bid to reduce their safety in numbers. It is also the first contact between union leaders and the government after May Day protests that saw 782,000 people demonstrate nationwide and left at least 108 police officers injured.
The impact 
The government is reportedly seeking to move past the tensions over pension reform and focus on other legislative priorities, but union leaders have indicated they intend to use the meeting to reaffirm their demand to withdraw the pension legislation. Regardless of the outcome, a new day of demonstrations is planned for June 6. Two days later, the National Assembly will begin debating legislation, brought by an opposition coalition called Liot, which seeks to reset the retirement age to 62.

May 17  Court of appeals hears abortion pill arguments  
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on Wednesday in New Orleans on the legality of abortion drug mifepristone.

What’s happened so far 
Last month, a federal district judge in Amarillo, Texas, suspended FDA approval of mifepristone. Shortly after, a federal judge in Washington blocked the FDA from making any changes to the drug’s access in 17 Democratic-led states, throwing into question the legality of the country’s most common method of abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, saying the pill should remain available as lawsuits played out in a lower court by a 7-2 ruling.
The impact 
The panel hearing next week’s arguments are described as “deeply conservative judges hostile to abortion rights.” Whichever side loses will be able to ask for a rehearing from the full 5th Circuit, then appeal to the Supreme Court. Even if the 5th Circuit upholds the lower court’s ruling, seven Supreme Court justices have shown a willingness to allow mifepristone to stay on the market. However, this same court reversed Roe v. Wade, which has led to several states banning abortion.

May 19  Arab League summit  
The leaders of 450 million people in the Arab world are set to convene in Saudi Arabia on Friday amid a shift in the region’s political alignments not seen in decades. Notably, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is expected to attend the meeting for the first time in 12 years, after the body agreed to lift the country’s suspension imposed at the start of its civil war.

What’s happened so far 
Syria’s readmission to the group ends political and economic isolation that exacerbated the impact of war on its population, of which an estimated 500,000 were killed and half of the rest displaced by the fighting between the Iran-aligned Al-Assad and Islamist militant groups funded by Gulf royal families. Now, Saudi Arabia and Iran are reconciling, de-escalating their proxy wars across the region.
The impact 
The Arab League has long failed to produce results in terms of solving the region’s multiple conflicts, though this year’s meeting has the potential to produce tangible outcomes. Syria’s readmission is reportedly contingent on its agreement to meet conditions of boosting efforts to end its war and curb drug trafficking in exchange for investment to rebuild its infrastructure and further reintegration into the global community.

What Else Matters

Smoke rises from a wildfire near Lodgepole, Alberta, on May 6. (Photo: Alberta Wildfire)

Alberta wildfires
More than 17,000 people remained out of their homes as of Wednesday evening, as nearly 78 fires — more than a quarter considered “out-of-control” — burned across the Canadian province of Alberta. Four northern Indigenous communities have reported “significant losses,” with at least 40 structures destroyed on the Sturgeon Lake First Nation northwest of Edmonton, 20 residences and a police station destroyed in the town of Fox Lake, and more than a dozen homes burned in the East Prairie Metis Settlement. A provincial state of emergency, issued Saturday, remains in effect. 

Watch for: The fire danger remains “very high” in northern parts of the province, with strong winds and high temperatures in the forecast for the next several days. Canada’s energy production has also taken a hit, with production down at least 145,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day. 

Pakistan’s Imran Khan crisis
Pakistan is in the midst of a security crisis triggered by the arrest of popular former Prime Minister Imran Khan over corruption charges. Leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, Khan is facing dozens of charges ranging from graft to terrorism over riots, mostly filed by the current administration. At least seven people have died in the protests and dozens others have been injured since Khan’s arrest on Tuesday. Military and state institutions have been looted and set on fire.  Already facing a political crisis, the risk of external debt default and widespread hunger, Pakistan deployed the army in Islamabad, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to grapple with the increasingly violent unrest. However, calling in Pakistan’s military brings pause as the institution has ousted civilian governments to replace them with a military dictatorship three times since the country’s founding, resulting in at least three decades of interrupted democracy.

Watch for: The role Pakistan’s military plays in immediate safety on the streets and behind the scenes of the political crisis will be closely monitored. The multiple attacks on army facilities did not trigger an immediate response, however, its powerful media wing issued a statement that accused Khan’s party leadership of attempting to provoke the military into reacting for political gain and equated the PTI with “eternal enemies of the country” such as India. What could follow next is the military trying to reestablish itself as the legitimate savior of the country, possibly without a coup but with results that reduce PTI’s ability to maneuver in future. With Khan incarcerated for most of the remaining week, the public response on the streets is expected to continue, though its scope will be determined with how large the army deployment will be.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

May 12-19 

May 13

  • EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum in Stockholm
  • Mauritanian National Assembly election
  • Zelenskyy and Scholz meet in Berlin

May 14

  • Thailand general elections
  • Turkey general elections

May 16

  • Council of Europe summit
  • Strike of judges and attorneys in Spain
  • Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan presidents visit China
  • Belarusian foreign minister visits Russia
  • South African president hosts Singapore prime minister

May 17

  • Philippine airspace to shutdown to replace UPS system

May 18

  • Mali constitutional referendum

May 19

  • Summit of Arab leaders
  • Japan to host summit of G7 leaders

May 20-26 

May 21

  • Timor-Leste elections
  • Greece elections
  • WHO holds World Health Assembly

May 22

  • Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation in Port Moresby
  • EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels

May 23

  •  Switzerland holds ministerial debate on themes it will raise as non-permanent member of UN Security Council

May 24

  • President Biden visits Sydney for Quad leaders meeting

May 25

  • APEC ministers responsible for trade meet in Detroit

May 27-June 2 

May 29

  • Alberta provincial general election
  • Korea-Pacific Islands Summit

May 30

  • Miami Beach International Fashion Week begins

May 31

  • Norway hosts meeting of NATO foreign ministers
  • Latvia’s parliament elects president

June 1

  • European Political Community meets in Moldova
  • NBA Finals begin

June 2

  • Shangri-La Dialogue Asia security summit in Singapore

June 3-9 

June 4

  • OPEC+ meeting

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