Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Sophie Perryer discuss France withdrawing 1,500 troops from Niger, plus more on a Mediterranean leaders’ summit, a possible U.S. government shutdown, parliamentary elections in Slovakia and primaries in the Dominican Republic.
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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Matthew Hipolito, Joe Veyera, Owen Bonertz and Jeff Landset. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
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Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:
Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.
Today is Sept. 28
In this week’s forecast we’ve got France pulling troops from Niger, a Mediterranean leaders’ summit, a possible U.S. government shutdown, parliamentary elections in Slovakia and primaries in the Dominican Republic.
You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.
French military withdrawal from Niger
Information compiled by Sophie Perryer
JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at the French military withdrawal from Niger. For more on that we’ve got Factal Senior Editor Sophie Perryer.
JIMMY: Hello, Sophie.
SOPHIE: Hey Jimmy,
JIMMY: Thanks for your time today. Hoping you can brief us on what we need to know about France and Niger. So to start, can you give us a bit of a recap?
SOPHIE: Absolutely. So France has been locked in a standoff with Niger's junta since it seized power in a military coup back in July. The junta has repeatedly ordered the French ambassador and French troops stationed in the country to leave. France has refused to withdraw its diplomat, saying it doesn't recognize the authority of the junta and is calling for the deposed president Bazoum to be reinstated. Meanwhile, anti-French demonstrations have been occurring outside the French military base in Niger, most recently in early September, with protesters calling for the departure of the ambassador and French troops.
JIMMY: And what's the latest, then? How are things going right now?
SOPHIE: Well, France's President Macron announced on Sunday that the 1,500 French troops who are stationed in Niger will leave the country by the end of the year and the French ambassador to Niger has also already departed. Both things are a major concession to the military junta following France's previous position. This does significantly weaken France's influence in the region, both in terms of its, sort of, regional sway – although this has been waning for some time given the rise in anti-French sentiment in other West African nations – but also in terms of France's contribution to the counterterrorism force, which is based in the Sahel region to fight insurgent groups.
JIMMY: What have the reactions been like in Niger and elsewhere for that matter?
SOPHIE: Well, Niger’s junta says that it is awaiting details from the French government about the troop withdrawal and has called for a negotiated framework. From a sort of population perspective, apparently spontaneous celebrations broke out outside the French military base in Niamey, in Niger, suggesting that locals are supportive of the decision. From an international reaction perspective, it's been reasonably muted, because although France has held on to their position following the military coup, this eventual withdrawal was reasonably expected.
JIMMY: Well, I know you can't predict the future, but if you could, what do you think folks should be watching for next?
SOPHIE: I can certainly try. Well, France said military cooperation with Niger is over, but hasn't yet given any clarification on the fate of the 1,500 troops currently stationed there. They could return to France, but they could be redeployed to another West African nation if France plans to continue contributing to the counterterrorism force in the Sahel. That said, there aren't too many countries in the region where troops could be deployed. France has already repositioned troops from Mali and Burkina Faso after coups in 2020, 2021 and 2022, respectively. Outside of France, the US has about 1,000 troops stationed in Niger. Now, unlike France, the junta hasn't actually asked these forces to leave, but it's not clear whether the US will maintain them in Niger without the French presence for that additional support. Finally, it's pretty likely Russia will seek to make further inroads in Niger following withdrawal of French troops. So, in neighboring Mali, the military junta there already has a relationship with Wagner mercenaries, so it's pretty likely Russia will seek to replicate that relationship in Niger under the guise of supporting counterterrorism operations with the departure of the French troops.
JIMMY: Well, Sophie, we’ll pause there for today, but as always, thank you for your time. Appreciate it.
SOPHIE: Thanks for having me.
JIMMY: Take care.
MED9 Leaders’ summit
Information compiled by Matthew Hipolito
JIMMY: Leaders from the European Union’s nine states on the Mediterranean will meet in Malta tomorrow.
The annual MED9 Leaders’ Summit comes amid a cascading series of crises in the region.
The MED9’s European affairs ministers have already met in Malta earlier this month, and their energy ministers met there in May.
Now, with more time having passed since the start of the war in Ukraine, the ministers will likely devote more time and resources to the climate and migration issues than last year.
Still, there are no indications that any specific deliverables aside from the regular statements are planned.
Finally, it remains unlikely that an increasingly-boisterous Turkey will approve of the summit’s outcome.
After all, Turkey, the EU’s ever-mercurial partner in migration policy, has condemned previous statements from the summit
U.S. government funding deadline
Information compiled by Joe Veyera
JIMMY: The U.S. Congress and the Biden administration have until Saturday night to reach an agreement on next year's budget.
That is, if they want to avoid the first government shutdown since December of 2018.
They want significant spending cuts in exchange for their vote on a budget deal.
Meanwhile, if the Senate ultimately passes a bipartisan stopgap funding measure, McCarthy could be forced to decide whether to bring the bill to the floor and risk a challenge to his speakership, or allow a shutdown to move forward.
Now, if no deal is reached, millions of federal employees would not receive paychecks, though essential workers would still be required to report to their jobs.
Nearly 7 million people who receive food assistance through the WIC program would also lose access to that help.
Parliamentary elections in Slovakia
Information compiled by Owen Bonertz
JIMMY: Voters in Slovakia will elect a new legislature on Saturday. That, after cycling through four prime ministers in the last five years.
Slovakia’s government functions as a parliamentary republic, where a weak president is elected every five years, in conjunction with a powerful 150-seat National Council and prime minister chosen at least every four years.
The last election, in 2020, saw the anti-establishment Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party form a conservative government headed by Igor Matovic.
Matovic resigned in 2021 amid scandal surrounding a deal for coronavirus vaccines with Russia.
President Zuzana Čaputová then appointed a series of unelected caretaker governments over three years until early elections were called.
Now, polling indicates that three-time former Prime Minister Robert Fico and his populist Smer party will likely win the most seats.
Fico resigned from the prime ministership in 2018 following the murder of an investigative journalist that exposed ties between Fico and the Calabrian mafia.
Major gains are also expected for the liberal Progressive Slovakia party, which is polling within a couple points of Smer.
Crucially, Fico has campaigned on withdrawing support for Ukraine and for no longer enforcing sanctions on Russia.
Smer’s ability to implement these policies would depend largely on if they are able to form a coalition with Euro-skeptic far-right parties.
Nevertheless, Fico’s return to power would be an alarming development for Ukraine.
Dominican Republic primaries for 2024 elections
Information compiled by Jeff Landset
JIMMY: Dominican President Luis Abinader will take the next step toward reelection on Sunday with a large turnout expected for the ruling party’s primaries for next year’s election.
Abinader was elected president in 2020, ending the 16-year rule of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD).
His Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) also won a majority of seats in the Senate and more seats than any other party in the Chamber of Deputies.
Abinader is a former businessman with ties to the tourism industry,
He maintains a high approval rating in the country despite being accused of tax evasion in the Pandora Papers.
Recent polls show him holding a significant lead over the two other main candidates.
Now, one of Abinader’s main policies has been cracking down on Haitian immigration.
In fact, he’s expelled thousands of Haitians from the country.
Recently, he even ordered the border be closed due to a conflict over the construction of a canal.
His administration is also in the process of building a border wall.
Accordingly, if Abinader is overwhelmingly put into power again, he may continue making more anti-Haitian decrees.
JIMMY: One final note for you, the podcast will be off next week, so our next episode will be out October 12th.
In the meantime, be sure to follow us on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, where we’ll still be posting breaking news.
JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.
Today’s episode includes writing from Factal editors Matthew Hipolito, Joe Veyera, Owen Bonertz and Jeff Landset. Our interview featured editor Sophie Perryer and our podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.
Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.
Music: 'Factal Theme' courtesy of Andrew Gospe