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Forecast: Trump adds to legal losses, junior doctors strike in England, and elections in Belarus and Iran

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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.

A New York judge hit former President Donald Trump with a massive fine last week, ordering the real estate tycoon to pay $355 million in a civil fraud case. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Joe Veyera discuss how it may be a while before there’s any sort of resolution to the situation and why the ruling poses challenges for the presidential candidate’s finances. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform.

Week of Feb. 23-March 1
A Look Ahead

Feb. 24 – Junior doctor strikes in England  

Junior doctors across England will hold a planned strike for five days starting Saturday to demand better pay conditions after talks with the government collapsed again.

What’s happened so far 
The British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee decided to hold strikes after the health secretary declined to extend the current strike mandate to allow talks to continue. This will be the 10th time junior doctors take industrial action since March 2023, hindering the government’s efforts to reduce the health system’s waiting lists.

The impact 
The union has said the strikes “can still be called off if a credible offer is made,” but so far the strikes seem to be going ahead. While urgent and life-threatening care will continue to be provided, other services are likely to face significant disruption, with leaked data suggesting more than 7,000 cancer operations were delayed as a result of the strike action. Meanwhile, junior doctors in Northern Ireland have also voted to go on a 24-hour strike in March for the first time amid a long-running dispute over pay.

Feb. 25 – Belarus parliamentary elections  

On Sunday, Belarusians will head to vote in the country’s first parliamentary elections since the 2020 government crackdown.

What’s happened so far 
This will be the first national electoral campaign since the large-scale anti-government protests and government crackdown following the presidential elections in August 2020. More than 5,000 polling stations will be available for citizens to cast their votes, and early voting started Feb. 20. Several parties were shut down by the country’s Supreme Court ahead of the parliamentary elections and there is little doubt parties supporting President Alexander Lukashenko will win the parliamentary elections.

The impact 
Ahead of the elections, subtle crackdowns on opposition have been reported, and there is expected to be little noise to emerge from the elections themselves, aside from a win for pro-Lukashenko parties. Officials announced they would not invite observers from the OSCE to sit in during the elections, of which only four parties remain from the initial 15 set to be taking part. Since Belarus is under significant government control, it is unlikely there will be any major opposition during the parliamentary elections. 

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Feb. 25 – Early voting in Russia’s presidential elections begins  

Early voting is set to get underway starting Sunday in Russian-occupied parts of eastern Ukraine for those eligible in the presidential election, Russian media reports say.

What’s happened so far 
Vladimir Putin is seeking a fifth presidential term in the election as the Ukraine war rages on and Russian losses continue to mount. Voting in the election will be overshadowed by the recent death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Arctic Circle jail, for which the White House says Putin is directly responsible. Navalny was ineligible to run in the upcoming poll and protests or attempts to memorialize his death have been quickly stamped out by security forces.

The impact 
The result of the election is likely to be a foregone conclusion, with Putin expected to be returned for another term. Early voting in these areas deemed “hard to reach” may provide a window into low turnout, voter apathy or any attempts at disruption ahead of the main stretch of voting in March.

Feb. 27 – Israeli municipal elections

Israel will hold municipal elections on Tuesday after the vote was postponed twice due to the ongoing war with Hamas. 

What’s happened so far 
More than 7 million people are eligible to vote in Israel’s belated municipal elections, which were originally planned for Oct. 31. The government’s emergency cabinet announced the postponement following the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 and the subsequent escalation of the conflict in Gaza (members’ link). Council representatives and municipality heads will be elected in 239 local authorities across the country.

The impact 
The vote has been postponed to Nov. 19 in multiple municipalities near conflict areas due to the evacuation of its residents amid missile launches from Gaza and Lebanon. Voting procedures have been set in place for soldiers and reservists at special ballot boxes. A runoff will be held on March 12 in cases where no majority is achieved by a candidate. 

Feb. 29 – U.S. Defense Secretary Austin to testify on health secrecy  

The head of the U.S. Department of Defense will be facing tough questions on Thursday about the handling of his recent cancer diagnosis and subsequent hospitalizations.

What’s happened so far 
The U.S. Senate confirmed Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense on Jan. 22, 2021, with only two Republicans voting against him. Last December, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had a prostatectomy later that month. He was then hospitalized on Jan. 1 due to complications from the surgery and was moved to the ICU the next day. But President Joe Biden and the White House did not know about any of this for days. Biden even learned about the diagnosis after it was disclosed to the public. Austin told lawmakers he would appear before the House Armed Services Committee by the end of the month. On Feb. 14, Austin required a hospital trip due to a bladder issue, which disrupted plans to attend a Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Brussels

The impact 
There has been bipartisan backlash to Austin’s lack of transparency. Several Republicans have already called for him to be removed from the position, Austin, however, has said he won’t resign and Biden isn’t considering firing him. Tough questioning from Congress could lead to more Democrats calling for his resignation, especially if the hearing illuminates any lapses in national security protocols or communication.

March 1– Iran elections  

Iran will hold two elections next Friday: parliamentary elections for the 290-seat Islamic Consultative Assembly and another for the 88-seat Assembly of Experts, an advisory body for the Supreme Leader.

What’s happened so far 
Iran’s Guardian Council, a watchdog serving as Iran’s election supervision body and dominated by hardliners, rejected the application by former moderate President Hassan Rouhani to run for Assembly of Experts. Current President Ebrahim Raisi is expected to be cleared to run for the assembly, with some analysts suggesting he is the favored candidate to replace the Ayatollah.

The impact 
This round of elections will be the first since the wave of pro-democracy protests began in September 2022 following the death of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Analysts anticipate a large election boycott and low voter turnout due to discontent over the country’s economy, with 30 percent of Iranian households living below the poverty line as of 2022. Despite Tehran mending ties with Saudi Arabia, tensions with the United States have soared since Tehran’s support for militant groups, including Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Assembly of Experts, elected every eight years, will most likely be responsible for electing the new supreme leader, as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is now 84 years old.

March 1 – Thailand and China waive visa requirements for travelers

China and Thailand will implement a visa-free entry policy for their citizens on Friday, allowing for stays up to 30 days. 

What’s happened so far 
Thailand introduced a visa waiver for Chinese visitors in September 2023 to bolster tourism, resulting in more than 22,000 Chinese tourists arriving in Thailand in the first two days of the visa waiver alone. China also initiated a visa-free trial for visitors from multiple countries late last year, reflecting its efforts to foster international tourism and laying the groundwork for the new policy with Thailand. 

The impact 
The policy will strengthen the relationship between the two countries, speaking to China’s influence in southeastern Asia. It is also expected to revive the tourism industry, which suffered a great decline in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. 

What Else Matters

Closeup photo taken behind three police as they arrest a man who is being pulled away from a crowd.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, pictured above during a 2017 arrest in Moscow, died last week in an Arctic prison colony, where he was serving a 30-year prison term. (Photo: Evgeny Feldman / Wikimedia Commons)

Navalny death 

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died at an Arctic penal colony on Friday, where he was serving a 30-year prison term on numerous charges, including establishing an extremist organization. Russian authorities say Navalny lost consciousness while on a walk and could not be resuscitated, but have so far refused to release his body to his family. A prominent human rights activist claimed Navalny may have been killed using a KGB “one-punch” technique, while his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, said in a video statement that she believes her husband was poisoned on the orders of President Vladimir Putin. In the wake of Navalny’s death, around 400 people were detained during weekend rallies in multiple cities across Russia. Protesters also gathered in London, Rome and Berlin.

Watch for: Russian authorities are highly unlikely to be forthcoming with any further information about Navalny’s death, despite demands from his family and supporters, and his body may not be released for some time, if at all, especially if it shows signs of torture or abuse. With Navalny gone, Russia’s opposition is somewhat rudderless, although it appears as though his wife may step into a leadership role, despite the personal risks given her husband’s incarceration and death. Any demonstration of dissent is highly constricted in Russia, with further curbs on protests brought in by Putin after Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and authorities restricting anti-war politicians from participating in the upcoming presidential election.

Trump fraud ruling 

A New York judge Friday found former President Donald Trump liable for inflating the values of his properties to manipulate his net worth, and ordered him to pay a penalty of $355 million, with interest pushing that total up to $450 million. Justice Arthur Engoron also barred Trump from serving as an officer or director at any New York company for the next three years, handing down similar two-year bans to his adult sons Eric and Donald Jr., who each also received $4 million fines.

Watch for: Trump has vowed to appeal the decision, but will have to post a bond or pledge assets equal to the verdict plus interest, something his lawyer has said he’s prepared to do. Meanwhile, it’s unclear just how much control the former president will be able to wield over The Trump Organization. While he retains the right to appoint someone to act in his stead, the judge extended the term of an independent monitor “for no less than three years,” and ordered the installation of an independent director of compliance. 

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Feb. 23-March 1

Feb. 24

  • Republican primary in South Carolina
  • Junior doctor strikes in England

Feb. 25 

  • Cambodia Senate election
  • Senegal presidential elections
  • Early voting in Russia’s presidential elections begins
  • Belarus parliamentary elections

Feb. 26

  • Nigeria central bank policy meeting

Feb. 27 

  • Israel municipal elections

Feb. 29

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Austin to testify on health secrecy

March 1

  • Iran parliamentary elections
  • Thailand and China waive visa requirements for travelers

March 2-8 

March 4

  • Donald Trump 2020 election results trial in Washington

March 5 

  • Super Tuesday primaries

March 6

  • UK spring budget

March 7

  • Biden delivers State of the Union address

March 8

  • Boeing to start contract negotiations with Seattle-area union

March 9-15 

March 10 

  • Portugal elections

March 11

  • Biden to release proposed U.S. budget plan
  • Ramadan starts

March 12

  • Philippines president visits Germany

March 15

  • Deadline for India to withdraw troops from Maldives

March 16-22 

March 17 

  • Russia presidential election

March 19 

  • Special election for seat of former US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy

March 20

  • Japan prime minister plans South Korea visit

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Top photo: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin addresses the traveling media upon arrival in Brussels, Belgium, on Feb. 13, 2023. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)

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