What We’re Watching: Taiwanese election, Trump's taxes, South African protests, ugly economic forecast
As Taiwan votes, China watches
Taiwanese go to the polls Saturday to vote in the first election since early 2020, when President Tsai Ing-wen won a second term in office right before COVID erupted. This time it’s only a local election, but as with anything political in Taiwan, China is paying close attention. Beijing is bullish on the pro-China KMT party, which is leading the polls in several key races. (Fun fact: the KMT mayoral candidate for the capital, Taipei, is the great-grandson of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the founder of modern Taiwan.) A good overall result for the KMT would mean two things. First, it would buck historical trends — and China's declining popularity among Taiwanese — if voters sour on the ruling anti-China DPP party just months after China responded with its biggest-ever show of military force to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting the island. Second, it raises the stakes for the DPP ahead of the presidential election in 2024, when the popular but term-limited Tsai needs a strong candidate for the party to stay in power. Alternatively, if polls are wrong and the DPP does well, expect fire and fury from across the Taiwan Strait.
Trump's tax returns
A long legal battle over Donald Trump’s tax returns has ended. The US Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld an appeals court ruling granting the House Ways and Means Committee access to No. 45’s documents. The Treasury Department is now expected, soon, to give the House committee six years’ worth of Trump's tax documentation. Democratic Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, a committee member, said he and his colleagues will “now conduct the oversight that we’ve sought for the last three and a half years.” Democrats, of course, have been trying to get at Trump’s tax returns in one way or another for much longer than that -- it was back in 2016 when, in a break with tradition, then-candidate Trump refused to publicize them. Still, it might not be all joy for the Dems now. If the Treasury Department doesn't release the documents before Republicans take control of Congress in January, the incoming GOP-run Ways and Means Committee will almost certainly withdraw the congressional request. In that case, Trump's tax returns would remain a secret, despite the high court's ruling.
Anger in South Africa
In South Africa, thousands of public-sector workers have launched a nationwide strike for higher wages in a time of high inflation. The political timing is awkward for President Cyril Ramaphosa. He will seek reelection as leader of the governing party, the African National Congress, next month, and he will try to pack the party leadership with his allies. Supporters of the main rival group within the ANC, the radical economic transformation faction, are spoiling for a fight, and supporters of Ramaphosa’s best-known ANC rival, former President Jacob Zuma, are angry this week because a South African court ruled on Monday that Zuma must return to prison for failure to cooperate with a corruption investigation. (Apparently, none of Ramaphosa’s ANC rivals is impressed that Ramaphosa is in the UK and met King Charles this week.) South Africa’s president will win most of these battles, and he still looks likely to lead the ANC to victory in the 2024 national elections, but the factionalization of the party will remain a chronic problem for the president – and for the nation he leads.
A rough global economic forecastThose who aren’t economists may assume that if the world can just get through the current spike in inflation, can finally put COVID fully behind us, and can reach a point where the war in Ukraine begins to cool, economic life will return to something like normal. Economists, however, are warning that 2023 is likely to be an ugly year. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development forecast on Tuesday that global economic growth will drop to a weak 3.1% for this year to just 2.2% for next year. (That’s down from 5.9% in 2021.) Inflation, according to the OECD’s secretary-general, is now “broad-based and persistent.” The political implications for this problem in the coming year will be felt everywhere. With lasting higher prices for food and fuel in particular, more developing countries, faced with the risk of social unrest, will need financial help, and fewer wealthy countries will have the spare cash and political willingness to help them. In short, 2023 will likely be a bad year to be an incumbent in every region of the world.
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