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Forecast: Iceland braces for potential volcanic eruption, ECOWAS issues ruling on Senegal opposition leader, and Netherlands holds elections

Senegalese voters line up at the polls in Dakar during the 2019 presidential election. (Photo: VOA / Seydina Aba Gueye)

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.

Week of Nov. 17-24

A Look Ahead

Nov. 17  – ECOWAS court ruling on Senegal opposition leader  

ECOWAS’ Court of Justice will rule Friday on the reinstatement of Senegal’s opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to the electoral roll, which would allow him to run in the February 2024 presidential election. 

What’s happened so far 
Sonko was barred from the electoral roll following convictions in June and July for corrupting a young person and inciting insurrection respectively. A Senegalese court overturned the decision in October, but the government has refused to issue Sonko with the necessary sponsorship forms to file his candidacy, claiming the decision is not final. The state has filed an appeal with Senegal’s Supreme Court, which is also due to be examined Friday. 
The impact 
While ECOWAS does not have any legal jurisdiction to enforce any ruling, it could bring international pressure on Senegal’s government if it does not respect the court’s decision to reinstate Sonko. A coalition of East African opposition politicians carried out a fact-finding mission in Dakar several days ago to demonstrate solidarity with Sonko and raise concerns over declining democracy in the country.

Nov. 17 – President of Turkey visits Germany  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set to meet with the German chancellor on Friday at a time when tensions are running high because of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

What’s happened so far 
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been one of the world’s most vocal pro-Israel leaders since Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7 while Erdoğan has been one of the most pro-Palestinian voices. Scholz visited Israel less than two weeks later, making him the first foreign head of government to do so, and pledged solidarity on the trip. Meanwhile, Erdoğan has accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza and called Hamas “freedom fighters.” His planned visit to Berlin has also made waves with the German population and some lawmakers, who have called his comments “antisemitic.” 
The impact 
This all comes at a time when Turkey’s accession to the European Union seems to be unlikelier than ever. Even before the attack, the European Parliament adopted a report saying the process “cannot be resumed” until Ankara has a “drastic change of course.” Now, instead of taking a role as a possible mediator in the crisis, Erdoğan has called for other countries to pressure Netanyahu to “return the state of Israel to sanity.” NATO, however, has mostly kept quiet on Erdoğan’s comments at a time when Turkey’s approval is needed to let Sweden join.

Nov. 17 – IISS Manama Dialogue in Bahrain  

The 19th annual edition of Manama Dialogue will begin in Bahrain on Friday.

What’s happened so far 
Hosted by a British research group, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the diplomatic forum will host dozens of government officials, diplomats, national security advisers and military leaders from across the world to discuss regional security challenges. The previous edition of the Manama Dialogue included discussions on the geopolitics of energy and the effect of extra-regional conflicts like the war in Ukraine on security in the Middle East. The IISS has faced criticism in the past after leaked documents suggested the think tank had secretly received £25 million ($31 million) from the Bahraini royal family, which has long been scrutinized for its record of human rights abuses.
The impact 
IISS says it expects to host 450 participants from across 40 countries in this year’s forum, including senior adviser for the Middle East to U.S. President Joe Biden, Brett McGurk. The opening remarks are set to be delivered by Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa. The forum is set to kick off with closed off bilateral meetings between ministers and officials on the first day, followed by two days of discussions on topics including the U.S. Commitment to the Middle East, energy security and new Arab initiatives for regional peace, as well as de-escalation in Gaza as the war reaches more than 40 days.

Nov. 19  – Argentina presidential runoff  

Voters in Argentina will go to the polls on Sunday to vote in the second round of the country’s presidential election, choosing between Javier Milei and Sergio Massa.

What’s happened so far 
Argentina’s economy minister Sergio Massa, a key figure in the country’s ruling center-left coalition who has positioned himself as a voice of calm, performed better than expected and won the first round of the presidential election on Oct. 22, while ultraconservative libertarian candidate Javier Milei, often referred to as “Argentina’s Donald Trump,” came in second. Neither candidate exceeded 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff. Opinion polling shows Milei’s lead over Massa narrowing in recent weeks following his first round loss, but pollsters give Milei the edge, as he’s running against the economy minister while financial problems, including triple digit inflation, continue to plague the country. The campaign was capped by a fiery televised presidential debate, which saw the usually calm Massa launching a series of attacks on a shocked Milei.
The impact 
The winner of the run-off election is scheduled to be sworn in as the country’s next president on Dec. 10 and will have a number of issues to tackle including the country’s struggling economy.

Nov. 19 – Pacific Games begin  

The 2023 Pacific Games will commence in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on Sunday.

What’s happened so far 
Held every four years, the games brings together athletes from 24 nations and territories across Oceania for a two-week, Olympic-style tournament, but the event has not come without controversy this year. Despite only being responsible for around 20 percent of the overall cost, Solomon Islands, which is among the poorest nations in the Pacific, has been criticized for diverting funds away from much-needed services. The remaining 80 percent was picked up by foreign nations, mainly China, which has helped build sports facilities for the event, including a 10,000-seat stadium. 
The impact 
Just last year, Solomon Islands signed a security deal with Beijing, which came after the Pacific nation broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China in 2019. Despite reassurances that its financial assistance comes with no political strings, analysts believe that China’s involvement is just another example of its growing influence in the region. 

Nov. 22 – Netherlands elections  

On Wednesday, Dutch citizens will head to voting booths in the country’s snap general elections to choose the members of the House of Representatives and the next prime minister. 

What’s happened so far  
In early June, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, after 13 years at the helm of Dutch politics, resigned following political uncertainty and rows regarding an immigration bill. With snap elections coming two years early, a new political landscape has emerged with recently formed parties attempting to take several of the 150 seats of the House of the Representatives. The race is widely contested, with current house member Pieter Omtzigt and his center-right New Social Contract party ahead in the polls.
The impact 
With such a sharp change in what has been a relatively stable decade in Dutch politics, we can expect a tight race with a plethora of new political faces in the Netherlands in a country known for its volatile electorate. Immigration has been at the forefront of the campaign. The next government is expected to be a coalition as no party is likely to win an outright majority.

What Else Matters

A crowd waves flags in a city street at night. Protesters gathered in Cartagena, Spain, on Nov. 10 to oppose an amnesty law that would pardon Catalan secessionist leaders.
Protesters gathered in Cartagena, Spain, on Nov. 10 to oppose an amnesty law that would pardon Catalan secessionist leaders. (Photo: P4K1T0 / Wikimedia Commons)

Spain protests 

Protesters have staged daily demonstrations in Spain’s main cities since the start of November (members’ link), often rallying near the headquarters of ruling socialist party PSOE in Madrid, to oppose an amnesty law that would pardon Catalan secessionist leaders prosecuted for crimes related to the planning of an illegal independence referendum in October 2017. The amnesty law project stems from a deal between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalan separatist party Junts per Catalunya to facilitate Sanchez’s investiture and the formation of a new government following July’s general elections. The amnesty law also applies to protesters prosecuted for acts of vandalism during violent demonstrations after the referendum and to police officers condemned for disproportionate use of force in those cases in which ill-intent is ruled out by a judge. 

Watch for: The amnesty bill’s approval is subject to parliamentary vote and will likely have to overcome legal challenges by a sector of the country’s judiciary and by opposition parties. The protests, which were originally called by far-right groups online, have been publicly endorsed by far-right party VOX and Catholic conservative Peoples’ Party (PP). PP leaders, who called nationwide marches on Sunday to protest the measure, have asked the European Parliament to hold a debate on democratic standards in Spain. The amnesty bill could take up to three months to be passed or blocked at parliament.

Israel-Hamas hostage talks 

Israel and Hamas are reportedly close to reaching a deal through indirect negotiations to exchange the largest number of prisoners since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that marked the biggest escalation in the 75-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday he’s personally involved in the talks and believes a deal that would see the release of some of the 239 Israelis held by Hamas “is going to happen,” while ABC quoted an unidentified Israeli official as saying a “breakthrough” could take place in 48-72 hours. 

Watch for: As many as 100 Israeli women and children held by militants in the Gaza Strip could be released in exchange for Palestinian women and children imprisoned in Israel, a temporary ceasefire and increased humanitarian aid for the territory’s 2 million inhabitants, The Washington Post reports. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly refused to stop the military’s offensive until all hostages are freed. The military claimed Tuesday that it has gained control of all territory above ground in the northern Gaza Strip, following a ground and air assault that has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians and destroyed large parts of Gaza City and its surroundings.

Iceland braces for potential volcanic eruption 

Iceland officials have warned the likelihood of a volcanic eruption remains high on the island country’s Reykjanes Peninsula, with tens of thousands of earthquakes reported since late October. A state of emergency has been declared, and thousands of residents were evacuated from Grindavik, a fishing town near the popular tourist destination known as the Blue Lagoon.  

Watch for: Fissures have already emerged in Grindavik, as well as structural damage to buildings, from the hundreds of small earthquakes detected daily. Authorities are preparing to build defense walls around the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant, hoping to shield it from lava flows. Iceland’s government has said that if the eruption occurs, however, air traffic disturbance is considered unlikely.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Nov. 17-24 

Nov. 17

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will visit Germany
  • ECOWAS court ruling on Senegal opposition leader 
  • IISS Manama Dialogue in Bahrain

Nov. 19

  • Argentina presidential runoff
  • 110th Grey Cup in Hamilton, Ontario
  • 2023 Pacific Games in Honiara, Solomon Islands

Nov. 22

  • Netherlands elections
  • UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivers autumn statement

Nov. 23

  • U.S. Thanksgiving
  • EU-Canada summit
  • Governor of Okinawa, Japan, visits Taiwan

Nov. 25-Dec. 1 

Nov. 25

  • Assembly elections in Rajasthan, India

Nov. 27

  • Deadline to form government in Spain
  • Deadline to form government in Poland

Nov. 30 

  • COP 28 in Dubai
  • Trial against Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu
  • Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis to debate California Gov. Gavin Newsom
  • Assembly elections in Telangana, India

Dec. 2-8 

Dec. 3 

  • Venezuela referendum over Esequibo territorial dispute with Guyana

Dec. 4

  • China Evergrande debt restructuring hearing

Dec. 8 

  • Hanukkah begins

Dec. 9-15 

Dec. 9 

  • By-elections in Harare, Zimbabwe

Dec. 10 

  • Egypt presidential election

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