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Forecast: Azerbaijan halts assault on Nagorno-Karabakh, GOP holds second presidential debate, and Colombian government plans rro-reform demonstrations

Faces from two women poke-out from a crowd waving flags. One holds a picture of General el-Sissi. The crowd is mostly smiling.

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.

Fighting between Azerbaijan’s military and Armenia-backed Artsakh forces this week in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region left hundreds of people killed and injured. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Alex Moore discuss the latest ceasefire, reactions to the situation and what it means for the 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in the disputed area. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform.

Week of September 22-29
A Look Ahead

Sept. 23 – 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China  

The opening ceremony for the postponed 2022 Asian Games will be held this Saturday in Hangzhou, China. 

What’s happened so far 
Due to then-existing pandemic travel restrictions in Hangzhou, the 2022 Asian Games were postponed from last September until this year. While the games do not officially open until Saturday, the competition has already started for several sports, including soccer, volleyball and cricket.

The impact 
North Korea is participating after largely abstaining from international events since the beginning of the pandemic amid the country’s eased border controls. Esports are also set to make a historic debut as a medal event at the games, possibly paving the way toward Olympic recognition.

Sept. 25 – Egypt to announce election date  

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, is set to announce the timeline for its presidential election on Monday, with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi seeking to hold on to power for an exceptional third term in the midst of one of the most severe economic crises in the country’s modern history.

What’s happened so far 
Egypt’s 109 million people are struggling to cope with surging inflation, a free-falling currency, and a record debt burden that ranks the country’s default risk as the world’s highest behind Ukraine. Meanwhile, the military-led administration of El-Sissi continues a strict crackdown on dissent, including banning protests, imprisonment of tens of thousands of people on political charges and controlling the majority of media outlets. At the last election in 2018, authorities jailed one of El-Sissi’s top challengers and exiled another, handing him a 97-percent victory over a hand-picked contender.

The impact 
El-Sissi is perhaps facing the biggest challenge to his authority since seizing power in a military coup in 2013, as his main financial backers in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait have so far refused to send bailout money as they did in the early years of his tenure. That has prompted speculation that the Gulf is pushing for new leadership in the North African nation, especially after outlets controlled by those governments started criticizing Egypt’s regime. Several opposition figures have so far announced their intention to run against El-Sissi, the most prominent being former lawmaker Ahmed Tantawi. At least 35 members of his campaign have been arrested, local rights groups report.

Sept. 26 – Pakistan Election Commission hearing to indict Imran Khan 

Former Prime Minister lmran Khan will face Pakistan’s electoral regulator on Tuesday to dispute a charge of breaching the Official Secrets Act, the latest in a litany of legal cases against the former prime minister and PTI party leader.

What’s happened so far 
Khan is accused of leaking a diplomatic cable, which his party claims contains details of U.S. support for a no-confidence vote to oust him from power back in 2022. After the document was published by U.S. news outlet The Intercept, Khan was charged and questioned at a jail in Attock, where he was detained on separate corruption charges. Khan says the document is no longer in his possession, while his party is seeking to question the legitimacy of his detention by discrediting the Official Secrets Act.

The impact 
Tuesday’s trial is expected to take place in jail in Attock as Khan remains there in pre-trial detention. While his prison sentence for corruption was overturned, his conviction stands, leading the election commission to ban him from seeking office for five years. Pakistan is due to hold national elections in November, although these are highly likely to be delayed given a lack of organization by the caretaker government, Khan’s ongoing legal troubles and a national economic crisis. 

Sept. 26 – Investiture vote of PM candidate Feijoo at Spain’s parliament  

Spanish lawmakers will vote on Tuesday to endorse or reject a new government led by prime minister candidate Alberto Núñez Feijoo of the conservative People’s Party (PP).

What’s happened so far 
This is the first investiture debate following the July 23 general election that saw conservative candidate Feijoo win the majority of votes despite not reaching the parliamentary chairs needed to form a government without coalition partners. The vote takes place after weeks of negotiations between parties, with a low probability that the PP candidate will achieve the necessary majority, amid tensions with far-right party Vox and after being openly rejected by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).

The impact 
If the first investiture debate fails, a second two-month period of negotiations will open, giving a possibility to all parties to achieve the 176-vote consensus needed to form a coalition government. The formation of a new executive is highly dependent on who the Catalan pro-independence parties decide to side with, as neither PP or PSOE, the two leading parties in the country, and their traditional allies gained enough votes in the polls to form a government without external support. 

Sept. 27 – Second Republican presidential debate in California  

The U.S. Republican Party will hold its second debate among presidential hopefuls at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday.

What’s happened so far 
The second debate will be held a month after the first for the GOP in late-August in which eight presidential primary candidates took the stage, with the notable exception of the heavy polling favorite Donald Trump. Participation thresholds for this debate are higher than the first, which will likely slightly limit the number of people on stage, though it remains unclear who exactly will qualify. 

The impact 
As with the first in August, former President Trump will forgo the primary debate in order to hold his own counterprogramming coinciding with it, this time speaking in Detroit to union workers. The decision to speak with union workers in Michigan is indicative of the extent to which the Trump campaign is ignoring the primary and looking ahead to a rematch with President Joe Biden, as Trump continues to enjoy large polling leads relative to his Republican rivals.

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Sept. 27 – Pro-reform demonstrations organized by Colombian government  

Thousands of people will take to the streets throughout Colombia on Wednesday ahead of next month’s regional elections.

What’s happened so far 
Colombia elected Gustavo Petro, its first leftist president, in June 2022. Earlier this year, he announced a package of controversial reforms to the country’s health, education and labor systems. He has called them ways to fight inequality and poverty in the country. Since then, Congress has stalled the proposed reforms. Last week, the Minister of Labor asked people to march in Bogotá and call for the reforms to be put in place. The teachers’ union has already announced it would take part.

The impact 
After a progressive wave put Petro into office, his momentum has slowed down. Recent polls have put his disapproval rating near 60 percent, thanks in part to a campaign finance scandal involving his son, a politician who admitted to taking thousands of dollars from a convicted drug trafficker and funneling some of it into his father’s presidential campaign without his knowledge. If voters ignore the scandal and the marches have large turnouts, it may encourage lawmakers to move forward with the reforms. If they fizzle, it may give Petro’s opponents more reason to fight back against the proposed reforms.

What Else Matters

Standing atop a mountain overlooking a high-relief valley are two individuals in European Union markings. They are looking at a truck convoy at a checkpoint
European Union Mission in Armenia monitors within Armenia looking at Azerbaijan’s military checkpoint on the Lachin corridor and the blocked humanitarian convoy of trucks that was sent to Artsakh in July 2023. (Photo: EU Mission in Armenia)

Azerbaijan military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh 

Weeks of escalating tensions culminated on Tuesday with Azerbaijan launching a new military operation targeting Armenia-backed Artsakh forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, resulting in hundreds of people killed and injured, according to different officials. Artsakh authorities surrendered to Baku’s sweeping demands one day after the operation was initiated, accepting a ceasefire in exchange for completely disarming and agreeing to hold talks on the future status of the region. The surrender of Artsakh paves the way for Azerbaijan to fully integrate the Nagorno-Karabakh region, that has been the epicenter of two bloody wars following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Watch for: Azerbaijan’s latest military operation remained confined to targeting Armenia-backed Artsakh forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and open conflict along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan has so far been avoided. The possibility of this occurring remains ever-present, however, as the two sides demonstrated one year ago in intense border clashes that left hundreds dead. With Artsakh agreeing to disarm, attention now turns to the roughly 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh that have been subjected to a blockade implemented by Baku nearly a year ago. Their fate is uncertain and it remains to be seen whether they will be forced to undergo mass evacuation or be subjected to Azerbaijani rule. The latest escalation between the two sides also illuminates the extent to which the role of outside powers has shifted since the conclusion of the 2020 war, with Yerevan increasingly disillusioned with Russia, its main outside benefactor, and shifting toward the orbit of western powers.

UAW strike 

The United Auto Workers union, representing 391,000 workers in the vehicle-manufacturing industry, is threatening to expand a strike that started last week with about 3 percent of its members at factories in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri if “serious progress” isn’t made by Friday in talks with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis about its demands for higher pay and more benefits. Car makers have furloughed hundreds of workers and are threatening more if the strike continues.

Watch for: Both sides appear far apart on the union’s biggest demand, a raise for workers over the next four years matching the 40-percent increase in CEO pay over the past four years. The union has conceded down to 36 percent, while employers are offering 20 percent, citing the need to reinvest record profits in the transition to electric vehicles. Meanwhile, the dispute is drawing in President Joe Biden and potential contender in next year’s election ex-President Donald Trump, both coming out in support of the union that has historically endorsed Democratic candidates but remains uncommitted in the 2024 race.

Iran prisoner swap 

Five Americans landed in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday following a controversial prisoner swap with Iran, mediated by Qatar. The deal saw five Iranian citizens released in return for the unfreezing of $6 billion of Iranian oil funds held in South Korea, as well as the release of five Iranian prisoners held in U.S. jails, mainly on charges of violating U.S. sanctions. Since the release, the Biden administration also added further sanctions against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s intelligence ministry over “their involvement in wrongful detention.”

Watch for: Republicans in the United States have already criticized the Biden administration for what they say is “boosting” the Iranian economy, with analysts arguing this could have implications for his re-election campaign. Although the Iranian government has declared it would use the funds “as they wish,” sources close to the mediation process have said the funds’ use would be strictly under scrutiny and only be allowed to be used for “humanitarian transactions.” The prisoner swap would not change Washington’s relationship with Tehran with regards to the nuclear program, a senior U.S. administration officer said earlier this week, adding “the door remains open for diplomacy” with the republic.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Sept. 22-29 

Sept. 22

  • Pope Francis visits Marseille, France
  • Anniversary of Mali’s independence

Sept. 23 

  • 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China

Sept. 26

  • Investiture vote of PM candidate Feijoo at Spain’s parliament
  • Sept. 26: Pakistan Election Commission hearing to indict Imran Khan 

Sept. 27

  • Second debate for U.S. Republican presidential candidates
  • Pro-reform demonstrations organized by Colombian government

Sept. 30-Oct. 6 

Sept. 30

  • Slovak parliamentary election
  • Maldives election runoff

Oct. 1 

  • New fiscal year for U.S. government

Oct. 2

  • Start of former U.S. President Trump’s civil trial in Manhattan

Oct. 3

  • Provincial election in Manitoba, Canada

Oct. 5

  • 3rd European Political Community Summit

Oct. 7-13 

Oct. 7

  • Mexican Navy takes over operations of Mexico City International Airport

Oct. 8

  • Luxembourg general election

Oct. 10

  • Liberia election
  • Venezuela’s opposition primaries

Oct. 11

  • Mozambique local elections

Oct. 14-20 

Oct. 14

  • New Zealand elections
  • Annular solar eclipse across North, Central and South America
  • Voice referendum in Australia

Oct. 15 

  • Ecuador runoff election
  • Poland parliamentary elections
  • International Olympic Committee session in Mumbai

Oct. 20

  • African football league starts
  • Pan American Games begin in Santiago, Chile

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