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Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger announced this week that they’re quitting the West African economic community ECOWAS. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Sophie Perryer discuss how the bloc has been losing influence in the region after failing to prevent a spate of military coups and why the move effectively formalizes a proxy power struggle between the West and countries like Russia.
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Week of Feb. 2-9
A Look Ahead
Feb. 2 – Las Vegas hospitality workers union strike
Thousands of hospitality workers in Las Vegas are threatening to go on strike Friday if a labor contract is not reached with nearly two dozen casino resorts.
What’s happened so far
Unions representing approximately 7,700 culinary and bartender workers are threatening to protest outside casinos beginning Friday if no agreement is reached on higher wages, job protection and worker safety. So far, three properties have secured five-year contracts with the Culinary Union, but negotiations continue with more than a dozen others.
If a strike does occur and continues, it threatens to bleed into Las Vegas’ Super Bowl weekend on Feb. 11. This year marks the first time that Las Vegas will ever host a Super Bowl and the coinciding boom in visitors that the game brings.
Feb. 4 – Final Indonesian presidential debate
Indonesians will tune in Sunday as the country’s presidential candidates spar with one another for the final debate of a five-round series organized by the government in the lead-up to the Feb. 14 elections.
What’s happened so far
Prabowo Subianto, leader of the second-largest party in the ruling coalition, is the presumed frontrunner but has faltered in the two debates between presidential candidates thus far. Part of his popularity is attributed to his running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the 36-year-old son of popular President Joko Widodo. Gibran performed well in his first debate but was criticized following the second as “rude” and “cringe.” Gibran’s vice presidential run is controversial, as his age prevented him from seeking the post before the constitutional court, then helmed by Joko’s brother-in-law, changed the requirements.
Although Prabowo leads both of his opponents by around 20 points in the polls, he does not currently have the greater-than-50-percent support that would stop the race from going to a runoff. While his unspectacular performance in debates has not seemed to put a dent in his popularity, they have also not helped him get over that hump, increasing the likelihood of a second round of voting. A Prabowo presidency may also see Widodo retain significant influence over the Indonesian government tantamount to establishing a political dynasty in a country dominated by Suharto-era powerbrokers.
Feb. 4 – Salvadoran general election
El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele will likely be re-elected on Sunday following a term defined by his controversial crackdown on crime.
What’s happened so far
Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, was first elected president in 2019 at the age of 37. At the time of his election, the country was known as one of the deadliest in the world and with thousands of murders every year due in part to the prevalence of gangs like MS-13. A sudden spike in violence in March 2022 led lawmakers to institute a national state of emergency at Bukele’s request, which suspended constitutional rights and allowed warrantless arrests. Since then, more than 75,000 people have been arrested and put into jails where physical and psychological torture is alleged.
Despite concern from the international community on Bukele’s methods, the people of El Salvador generally approve of the decrease in violence. His approval ratings are sky-high and the homicide rate has plummeted to one of the region’s lowest, all while the country’s gang problem has been crippled. Bukele’s success has influenced other leaders in Latin America and his likely reelection this weekend will send shockwaves through the region, possibly leading to the erosion of even more democratic norms.
Feb. 5 – Ceasefire between Colombian guerilla group and government expires
What’s happened so far
After the deal was initially set to expire Jan. 29, it was extended to Monday to give both parties more time to finalize negotiations toward a more robust six-moth ceasefire that would extend the initial one brokered in early August 2023. This is part of an ongoing government effort to demobilize the guerilla group, operational since the 1960s, and responsible for continued attacks on police and military targets.
Peace negotiations have been underway for years between the ELN and Colombia, but it seems both parties have an active interest in maintaining the deal in force. While the kidnapping of a well-known Colombian soccer player’s father put a strain on the negotiations, ELN’s subsequent announcement that it would refrain from extortion-based kidnappings smoothed over the talks. Meanwhile, attacks featuring other armed groups, such as the Clan del Golfo cartel and ex-FARC dissidents continue.
Feb. 7 – Azerbaijan elections
Azerbaijan will vote Wednesday in a snap presidential election as the country’s authoritarian leader looks to affirm his leadership.
What’s happened so far
President Ilham Aliyev, who has been in office since 2003, called a snap election in December 2023, bringing the vote forward from an expected election in 2025. This coming election is dubbed the “Victory Election” after the Azerbaijani government took full control of the disputed Karabakh region in a rout of Armenian forces. Peace talks over the region continue. There is speculation the vote is being held to capitalize on a recent spike in popularity and ensure a continuation of the Aliyev family’s decades-long rule of the country.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is sending a team of monitors to examine the process and will issue a statement of preliminary findings after the poll. Previous elections have been marred by accusations of fraud and vote-rigging.
Feb. 8 – Pakistan elections
What’s happened so far
Nawaz Sharif, three-time prime minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, has reemerged as a leading candidate after corruption charges against him were dropped upon his return from self-exile in London. Sharif will face Bilawal Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party as his major opponent in the premiership race. Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been pushed out of the running after an election tribunal rejected his candidacy.
The country is faced with mounting security concerns in the lead-up to the elections due to an uptick in militancy in the western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, leading to army deployment during the polls. There are questions about the army’s continued back-channel involvement in politics amid a government crackdown on Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, including the banning of the party’s ballot logo and arrest of its workers. Khan himself has been sentenced to an additional 24 years in prison in two prominent cases.
Feb. 8 – SCOTUS oral arguments in 14th amendment case
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday on whether former President Donald Trump should be barred from seeking a return to office for violating the “insurrection clause” of the 14th amendment.
What’s happened so far
The Colorado Supreme Court booted Trump from the state’s Republican primary ballot in December, citing his role in inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows also ruled that Trump did not meet ballot qualifications in that state under the same rationale, but that decision has been paused by a judge pending the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In a brief challenging the Colorado decision, Trump’s legal team warned that excluding him from the ballot would “promise to unleash chaos and bedlam.”
With three of the court’s nine justices picked by Trump, and three others appointed during other Republican administrations, it seems unlikely that the conservative majority will rule against the former president. Some observers believe the court will look to make a narrow ruling, one that allows Trump to remain on the ballot without addressing the insurrection claims.
What Else Matters
French farmers have been disrupting traffic across France since mid-January to protest environmental regulations, competition from importers, an increase in taxes on agricultural diesel and lower consumer prices, which they argue have resulted in unfair profit margins. The demonstrations have escalated in recent days with protesters blocking miles of roads nationwide since Saturday, proclaiming a state of “siege” around Paris and engaging in acts of vandalism in some instances. Newly appointed Prime Minister Gabriel Attal scrapped agricultural diesel tax increases and announced a revision of agricultural laws to streamline prefectural decrees Friday in response to the farmers’ demands.
Watch for: After the main farmers’ union in the country assured the strike will continue despite the prime minister’s concessions, some 15,000 police officers were mobilized in Île-de-France to prevent major disruptions. The main roads leading to the capital remain occupied (members’ link) by hundreds of trucks, while secondary routes are still accessible. Similar protests are taking place in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands with farmers raising concerns about the new EU common policy to move the bloc’s countries toward a more sustainable agriculture model.
Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger leave ECOWAS
Three Western African nations under the control of juntas announced their departure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Sunday after accusing the regional bloc of imposing “inhumane sanctions” in the wake of their respective military coups. Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger represent more than half of ECOWAS’ geographical territory and around 15 percent of the bloc’s population. In a joint statement, a spokesperson for the three nations accused ECOWAS of being subject to foreign influence and failing to address pan-regional issues such as the violent insurgency affecting the Sahel region. The move was not unexpected and follows months of tensions — in September 2023, the three countries established a rival bloc, the Alliance of Sahel States, in a bid to legitimize their military governments and strengthen security cooperation.
Watch for: Following the announcement, ECOWAS said it had not received a formal notice from the three nations to leave the bloc, which is required to start the year-long departure process. ECOWAS chair Nigeria accused the leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger of acting in bad faith and not allowing their citizens to choose their future. The bloc has indicated it remains open to negotiations, while a Togolese delegation arrived in the Nigerien capital Niamey on Tuesday, although it was not clear whether Togo was representing ECOWAS or acting in an individual diplomatic capacity.
Deadly drone strike on U.S. base in Jordan
A drone strike carried out by an Iran-backed militia killed three American soldiers and injured at least 40 others overnight Sunday after it struck the U.S. military base known as Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan, near the Syrian border. Although there have been dozens of rocket and drone attacks on U.S. bases in the region since the start of the war on Gaza, this is the first time that U.S. troops have been killed in such incidents. According to multiple defense reporters, it appears as though the drone, launched from Iraq, was mistaken for a U.S. drone set to return to the base at the same time.
Watch for: Tehran called the accusations of Iranian involvement “baseless,” arguing that regional militias do not take direct orders from Iran. The United States has taken retaliatory action against these groups in the past, including strikes on three facilities in Iraq used by Kataib Hezbollah last week. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. vowed a “very consequential response” to the drone attack. Despite the United States trying to prevent the conflict spreading to a wider war with Iran, the Biden administration is facing pressure to strike Iranian targets more directly in response.
What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…
- Las Vegas hospitality worker unions plan strike
- El Salvador election
- Final debate before Indonesia presidential election
- Ceasefire between ELN and Colombian government expires
- FAA chief testifies before U.S. House committee
- Azerbaijan election
- Pakistan elections
- SCOTUS oral arguments in 14th amendment case
- Lunar New Year
- Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas
- Finland presidential runoff
- Special election to fill seat of ousted New York Rep. George Santos
- Indonesia election
- Munich Security Conference
- Kurdistan parliamentary election
- Qatar Open begins
- MLS season scheduled to begin amid referee union negotiations
Feb. 24-March 1
- Cambodia Senate election
- Senegal presidential elections
- Israel municipal elections
- Iran parliamentary elections
- Thailand and China waive visa requirements for travelers
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