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Forecast: Venezuela moves to takeover oil-rich region of Guyana, Egypt holds presidential polls, and Thailand begins debate on marriage equality bill

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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.

Tensions between Venezuela and Guyana worsened this week after Venezuela’s Maduro moved to annex the disputed oil-rich Essequibo region of Guyana following a referendum. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Jeff Landset discuss why Guyana sees it as an existential threat and how some analysts think it may just be Maduro rallying pre-election support. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of December 8-15
A Look Ahead

Dec. 8 – Zimbabwe by-elections  

By-elections will take place in nine Zimbabwean constituencies on Saturday after opposition candidates from the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party were ousted from their seats.

What’s happened so far 
The polls were triggered by the removal of 14 CCC candidates under a Zimbabwean law that allows the recall of parliamentarians who no longer represent a political party. Their party leader is challenging the candidates’ removal in the high court, claiming that an imposter wrote the recall letter to the National Assembly leader. Campaigning for the vote has been marred by violence, including the abduction and death of one CCC activist, and allegations of government intimidation.

The impact
If the ruling ZANU-PF party wins these constituencies Saturday, it will hold a two-thirds majority in parliament, which is required to change the constitution. Some observers speculate the government will use this power to abolish the constitutional term limit, allowing President Emmerson Mnangagwa to remain in office beyond 2028. The government denied these allegations and said it does not need to change the constitution to allow Mnangagwa to run for a third term. Further by-elections are set to take place in February 2024.

Dec. 10 – Argentine presidential inauguration  

On Sunday, Javier Milei will be inaugurated as new president of Argentina following an election victory in mid-November. 

What’s happened so far 
President Alberto Fernández will hand over the presidential sash and baton to the President-elect Milei in the National Congress of Argentina in Buenos Aires. While several heads of state and political leaders, including those from the South Cone, Ecuador and the King of Spain, are expected to attend, others such as the United States, Nicaragua and Colombia, will not take part. 

The impact 
While the inauguration is merely a ceremonial process, it also provides a clear picture of who supports Milei’s radical libertarian proposals. Nicaragua’s refusal to attend the ceremony following Milei’s statements on left-wing leaders in Central and South America points to the divide already between some leaders and Milei. Invitations were also not extended to Venezuela, Iran and Cuba. Milei has called an extraordinary congressional session for Dec. 11, a day after his inauguration, during which he is expected to announce widespread financial and social reforms

Dec. 10 – Egypt presidential election  

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi is staging a vote for the top executive office starting Sunday, after which he’d be set to remain in office until 2030. Security services blocked El-Sissi’s lone legitimate challenger early in the process, setting him up to run against three supportive politicians with little name recognition.

What’s happened so far 
The election is taking place in a severe economic crisis that has intensified already high poverty levels and left the country struggling to repay its debt and grappling with record inflation. It also coincides with Israel’s war in Gaza Strip — the most significant escalation in the 75-year-old conflict. El-Sissi’s administration is balancing domestic messaging that claims to side with the Palestinians by allowing them access to humanitarian aid through the Rafah border crossing, while simultaneously enforcing Israel’s blockade on the territory.

The impact 
The government is likely to impose a series of austerity measures following El-Sissi’s win, pressuring an already impoverished population, to secure more international loans and avoid insolvency. Those are expected to include a currency devaluation to address the shortage of dollars that has caused a 60-percent gap between the Egyptian pound’s official and black-market exchange rates. The International Monetary Fund has halted disbursements of a $3 billion loan deal due to the government’s inability to deliver on promises to float the currency and reduce the military’s role in the economy. Still, IMF’s managing director signaled this month that the delayed loan program might advance “soon.”

Dec.10 – Hong Kong district council elections  

Hong Kong will hold “patriot only” elections this Sunday with markedly subdued fanfare, following years of crackdowns on the city’s once-vibrant political scene. 

What’s happened so far  
In the four years since 2019, when widespread pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong, Beijing has cracked down via national security legislation inserted into the city’s constitution, with hundreds of people convicted and many civil society groups dissolved. Recent legislation also significantly reduced the number of directly elected seats in district councils, with only 20 percent up for actual election, further shrinking democratic freedom. Opposition parties have effectively been barred from participating, after new rules required candidates to receive nomination from government-appointed committees.

The impact Given the legal chill on freedom of expression in Hong Kong, and general apathy from the public over their lack of choice in the election, the city is unlikely to see much by way of protests or surprise results. Authorities are attempting to drum up interest through fairs, activities and other entertainment, but it remains to be seen how the new electoral rules affect turnout.

Dec. 11 – Polish prime minister faces vote of confidence  

Following last month’s disputed elections in Poland, incumbent Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will face a vote of confidence in parliament Monday in hopes to secure enough support to form a government.

What’s happened so far 
While the opposition bloc led by former Prime Minister Donald Tusk defeated the ruling far-right PiS party in last month’s vote, President Andrzej Duda decided to grant PiS an opportunity to try to form a government first. Morawiecki is expected to make a speech in parliament followed by a floor debate, before lawmakers vote to appoint the current prime minister or a new one.

The impact 
If the vote fails, which analysts signal to be the likely outcome, the lower house will appoint another candidate. Lawmakers will have to submit a list of candidates who need the backing of at least 46 members and then elect a new prime minister. A new vote of confidence is likely to take place the following day. A possible Tusk-led government is expected to focus on mending relationships with the European Union as several disputes are blocking €36 billion ($38 billion) in EU funds. Meanwhile, the additional time Morawiecki has had in office since the election has given him an opportunity to secure his position within the PiS party ahead of April’s local elections.

Dec. 12 – Thailand to begin debate on marriage equality bill  

Thailand’s Parliament is expected to kick-off debate on same-sex marriage once its session convenes Tuesday

What’s happened so far 
In November, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced that his cabinet approved a draft bill for marriage equality to be brought to parliament in December. His government said the proposed amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code would swap the terms “men and women” with “individual” or “spouse.” This is not the LGBTQI-friendly country’s first attempt at expanding the definition of marriage — in 2021, parliament debated marriage-equality legislation but failed to take it to final vote before the end of session. 

The impact 
If the draft legislation is passed by parliament and gets the royal assent, Thailand will become Asia’s third state and Southeast Asia’s first to legalize same-sex marriages. Once the bill passes, same-sex couples would be guaranteed all the legal rights currently afforded to men and women, according to a Thai government spokesperson. It remains unclear how long it will take to practically implement these changes and what steps, if any, are planned for adoption or surrogacy for same-sex couples. Thai capital Bangkok could also become host for World Pride events in 2028, as suggested by Srettha previously. 

Dec. 13 – Hunter Biden to appear before House committee  

U.S. President Joe Biden’s son Hunter has been subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Oversight for a deposition Wednesday as part of an ongoing impeachment inquiry. 

What’s happened so far 
In a letter to Chairman James Comer late last month, Hunter Biden’s lawyer wrote that he would be willing to testify publicly, claiming a closed door session could be selectively leaked, while Comer and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan pushed back by saying he’ll receive “no special treatment,” and must first appear for a deposition before a public hearing at a later date. It’s currently unclear whether Hunter Biden intends to appear under those circumstances. 

The impact 
The back-and-forth between Hunter Biden and House Republicans comes as his father seeks re-election in 2024. Last month, the White House called for the subpoenas targeting Hunter and other family members and administration officials to be withdrawn, calling the inquiry “illegitimate.” Comer, meanwhile, claimed the Biden family has engaged in “shady business practices,” but has thus far stopped short of saying how business records obtained by his committee prove wrongdoing by the president.

Dec. 14 – Putin annual news conference  

Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold his yearly marathon news conference Thursday.

What’s happened so far 
Putin will resume his yearly hours-long end-of-year news conferences this year after not holding one last December, making this his first annual press conference since the full invasion of Ukraine. The press conference, which became a staple of his schedule when he resumed the presidency in 2012, allows Putin to showcase his stamina while fielding questions alone for hours on a wide range of topics.

The impact 
This year’s press conference coincides with the announcement of the date of March’s presidential election. Putin, who is reportedly set to run for another six-year term, could use the news conference as his medium to confirm his intentions after earlier saying he would announce his run only after the date of the election is called. March’s presidential election will be the first since sweeping changes to Russia’s constitution were put in place in 2020 that will allow Putin to remain in power through 2036. 

What Else Matters

A man holds up a printed map of the northern portion of South America as he presents in lecture hall or speaking room.
In November, Guyanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Hugh Todd formally rejected Venezuela’s claim to the Essequibo region during a parliament session. (Photo: Guyana Department of Public Information)

Venezuela/Guyana territorial conflict 

Venezuela keeps ramping up its dispute with Guyana over the oil-rich Essequibo region, despite the International Court of Justice’s order to keep the status quo. Over the weekend, Venezuela’s electoral authority made dubious claims that more than 10 million voters approved the creation of a new state in a large jungle area that makes up approximately two-thirds of Guyana’s national territory. Guyana called the move an “existential threat” and has asked for international help. The International Court of Justice said it has jurisdiction and plans to hold a trial in the spring on the issue.

Watch for: Analysts believe it’s unlikely Venezuela could actually annex the area, saying constitutional changes and use of force would be necessary to do so. Many experts see this mostly as a political move by President Nicolás Maduro and his authoritarian government to shore up support ahead of a planned 2024 presidential election, especially after the opposition held a primary in October that saw better-than-expected turnout. The issue could also be used to stop the election from happening. Regardless, it has increased tensions in the area so violence between the two countries could occur if Maduro continues with his rhetoric.

Resumption of fighting in Gaza 

Minutes after the ceasefire expired on Dec. 1, Israel renewed its aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The initial days following the ceasefire expiration have been marked with dozens of daily air strikes across the entire Palestinian territory, with health authorities putting the death toll at more than 700 dead in 24 hours on Sunday, raising the total death toll since Oct. 7 to more than 16,000 people. Although Hamas released more than 100 hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli prisons during the seven-day truce, Israeli authorities estimate that there are more than 140 hostages who remain in captivity in Gaza.

Watch for: Since the fighting resumed, Israel has been expanding its offensive in the south following the order to evacuate approximately one-fifth of the main city in the south of Khan Yunis. This evacuation order is estimated to impact some 167,000 residents on top of the thousands of internally displaced persons temporarily residing in the south following the previous order to evacuate from Gaza City and the north. Ceasefire talks have supposedly stopped in Qatar, with Hamas saying that negotiations on prisoner exchanges “are now over and will not resume until Israel halts its attack,” which military officials have said would not come to an end until it’s ambivalent goal of “eradicating Hamas” from the Gaza Strip is done.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Dec. 8-15 

Dec. 8 

  • Hanukkah begins
  • Health, education, social services workers strike in Greater Montreal

Dec. 9 

  • By-elections in Harare, Zimbabwe

Dec. 10 

  • Egypt presidential election
  • Argentine presidential inauguration
  • Aena airports ground staff strike in Spain
  • Hong Kong district council elections
  • ECOWAS summit in Nigeria

Dec. 11

  • Polish prime minister faces vote of confidence

Dec. 12

  • Thailand expected to begin debate on marriage equality bill 
  • China’s president visits Vietnam
  • First amnesty law debate at Spanish parliament

Dec. 13

  • Hunter Biden agrees to testify publicly before a House committee

Dec. 14

  • European Council meeting
  • Russia’s Putin holds annual news conference

Dec. 15

  • South Africa declares holiday to celebrate rugby win

Dec. 16-22 

Dec. 17 

  • Chad constitutional referendum
  • Chile constitutional plebiscite
  • Serbia elections

Dec. 18 

  • Iraq provincial council elections

Dec. 20

  • Second round Madagascar presidential election
  • Taiwan elections televised candidates policy presentation
  • DR Congo presidential elections
  • Junior doctors’ strike in England

Dec. 23-29 

Dec. 24 

  • Christmas Eve

Dec. 25

  • Christmas Day

Dec. 26

  • Kwanzaa begins

Dec. 30-Jan. 5 

Jan. 3

  • Junior doctors’ strike in England

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