If 2013 goes down as a year of conflict and protest, then what lies in store in 2014? Give us your tips for what will make the news in the comment thread
Guardian correspondents report from their patches round the world on what will dominate the headlines in their part of the globe. Elections loom large – in rising economies, in the US with midterms, and also in Europe, with the parliamentary elections in May. Negotiations in the Middle East will prove critical, China will be deciding how to exert its power – and sport may transform the fortunes of Russia, Brazil and Yorkshire.
For much of Washington, 2014 cannot come soon enough. November’s mid-term elections represent Barack Obama’s last hope of redrawing the US political map and moving on from a year marred by divided government and Congressional stalemate.
Whether Democrats succeed in their unlikely dream of seizing back control of the House of Representatives or Republicans instead continue to make inroads on their fragile lead in the Senate is another matter, and much depends on whether the White House can first restore public faith in its flagship healthcare reforms by the 31 March enrolment deadline.
Spring will also see Republican leaders under renewed pressure from their Tea Party wing, which is preparing primary challenges against moderates in the Senate that will further constrain any ability to cut deals with Democrats once election fever starts.
Several potential bright spots could lift everyone’s spirits, however. A recovering economy may take pressure off America’s anaemic job market and shocking social stagnation. US troops should return from Afghanistan – with or without a deal in Kabul to retain a security presence. And progress toward Iranian nuclear detente may give the White House cause to celebrate a rare foreign policy success, even if Congress will still need persuading.
Other challenges looming in 2014 have been postponed by the dysfunction and inertia of 2013. Barack Obama still needs to decide whether to authorise the Keystone energy pipeline, which pits environmentalists against North America’s unconventional oil boom; expect tough new climate change controls for power companies instead if he does. And with all three branches of government now proposing reform of the NSA, Obama will finally have to decide before January’s state of the union address what to do about America’s surveillance state.
For much of 2014, the US Capitol dome will be shrouded in scaffolding for renovations – both real and metaphorical. What emerges next December will say much about the future of American democracy.
Dan Roberts in Washington
In the wake of years of crisis that have shaken Europe to the core and raised existential questions, 2014 will bring a major shake-up in the political forces ascendant across the EU, in the people running things, in how the EU’s rival institutions cope with and against one another.
Elections for the European parliament in May promise to be the most momentous ever held for the Strasbourg chamber. The angst of the elites across the continent is that the chamber will be captured by a motley crew of Europhobes dedicated to the destruction or subversion of the institution they have conquered.
As a result of years of austerity, soaring unemployment and the “renationalisation” of European politics, anti-EU populists will do well in the elections, from Britain to Greece. France could be the big one, with Marine Le Pen’s Front National tipped to win the election nationally.
The mavericks and populists will not win the election. But they could secure symbolic victories, take around 30% of seats, shape the agenda, cause the mainstream parties to trim their policies towards the far-right, and benefit from the perceived failings of lacklustre leadership among the mainstream in Europe.
The fallout from the elections will also affect the next bout of horse-trading. October will see the appointment of a new European Commission, a new president of the European Council chairing EU summits and mediating between national leaders, and a new foreign policy chief.
There will be a battle between the new parliament and national leaders over who should make these key appointments and there will be the usual multi-dimensional scrapping over the plum jobs.
While these games preoccupy Brussels, Europe’s real world is one of deepening social and economic impact from years of austerity and euro crisis, of the political costs of minimal growth, effective deflation, mass unemployment.
The British question will move up the agenda. Will the UK be the first country, and a big one, to quit the EU? This will concentrate continental minds.
Angela Merkel in Berlin, in the first year of her third term as German chancellor, is Europe’s undisputed leader. The year should show if she really has an idea of what she wants her European legacy to be and whether she can get there. France’s President François Hollande cuts an increasingly sorry figure on the European stage – he needs a new deal with Germany but there is little sign of that happening. French weakness and Italian messiness will reinforce the prevalent sense of worry about European decline.
Ian Traynor in Brussels
Diplomats and politicians are fond of throwing around the word “decisive” but 2014 really will be a critical year for Afghanistan, one that is expected to determine whether it can avoid another bout of vicious civil war, and hold on to the clear, if limited, gains of the last decade.
A presidential election is set for April, which the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, is barred from contesting.
There are widespread fears about security and fraud, but if the vote is even a qualified success it will pave the way for the first peaceful democratic transfer of power the country has ever seen.
The eleven candidates fighting for a berth in the imposing Arg palace, all of them male, range from a relative of the ousted royal family and one of Karzai’s brothers to the former ministers of defence and foreign affairs and a flamboyant ex-pilot.
Once the vote is over, Afghanistan will gear up for another huge change: after 13 years of fighting, the last western combat troops will leave the country.
Karzai is currently mulling whether or not to sign a long-term security pact with the US that would keep some foreign soldiers on as mentors to the Afghan army and police, and provide bases for special forces and drones to chase al-Qaida and linked groups along the Pakistani border.
Without the deal, not only will all foreign military support be taken away, but $8bn (£4.85bn) a year in promised funding for the military and development projects is also expected to evaporate. That would leave a weak central government facing the Taliban alone, and with almost no cash to pay its soldiers’ salaries.
The Iraqi foreign minister, whose government turned down a similar deal with the US two years ago, visited Afghanistan in December and warned Afghans that despite its oil wealth his country still needs continued US support.
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
No one doubts that 2014 will be another year of dramatic change in south Asia. Economies in India and its neighbours are struggling to create growth and jobs to satisfy hundreds of millions of young people.
In Bangladesh, whatever the result of polls in January, the battle between Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia will continue to paralyse politics – and could hinder efforts to better conditions for workers in the country’s vast garment industry.
In India, a general election in May – the biggest democratic exercise in history – will pit an ailing Congress party (led by the scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty) against the Hindu nationalist opposition, whose candidate is the controversial Narendra Modi. There have been upsets before but all the indications are that the Congress party is in trouble. There is a huge list of outstanding issues – from major structural economic weaknesses to violence against women – to be dealt with by whoever gains power in May.
That task may be complicated by the aftermath of the US and Nato pull-out from Afghanistan. All that country’s neighbours have a stake in the aftemath and will do whatever they need to protect their interests. In disputed Kashmir, 2013 saw an increase in clashes along the de facto border splitting the former kingdom between India and Pakistan. Violence is likely to worsen this coming year.
There is likely to be trouble elsewhere in the mountains too, as Nepal tries yet again to find some kind of political stability.
Down in the Indian Ocean, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will seek to further bolster his hold on power and his popularity in Sri Lanka. Many in the Maldives will simply want calm. By the end of 2014, there will be plenty of others across this region who will share that wish.
Jason Burke in Delhi
Russia/former Soviet Union
The Sochi Olympics will open the year for Russia, with President Vladimir Putin’s long-standing pet project finally coming to fruition. If Sochi can pull them off without a terrorist attack, infrastructure collapse, or the arrest of gay competitors, then they may just go down as a success, despite the colossal financial cost of hosting the games.
Politically, we will see whether opposition-minded Muscovites, who gave the firebrand opposition leader Alexei Navalny 27% of the vote in 2013 Moscow mayoral elections, can bloody Putin’s nose at local parliamentary elections scheduled for the autumn. One to watch is the recently freed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Will he stay abroad or return to Russia, and could he decide to enter politics, providing a new and possibly unifying face for the Russian opposition movement?
It will be a fascinating year for Ukraine, with half the country up in arms over the decision to turn away from the EU and towards Russia. How much the Kremlin’s cash bolsters the country’s faltering economy, the mood of the powerful oligarchs, and how shrewd a game the opposition politicians play will all be key in determining whether President Viktor Yanukovych can survive until the 2015 elections and even be re-elected.
Keep an eye on Uzbekistan, where an epic battle between clans and even within the ruling family is going on, as the 75-year-old dictator Islam Karimov appears to be in fading health. With elections due in 2015 and Karimov not getting any younger, the behind-the-scenes battle is likely to intensify, not least among his two squabbling daughters, both of whom have been tipped for power.
Shaun Walker in Moscow
The regional powerhouses Algeria, Egypt and South Africa will hold elections in a year when polls will also take place in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, the Comoros, Guinea Bissau and Malawi.
In South Africa, the ruling ANC may hope for a boost by reflected glory after the death of the anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela in December, but the mourning period also brought into sharp focus the simmering discontent under the current president, Jacob Zuma – who was booed at Mandela’s memorial service. A generation of “born frees” – those born after democracy in 1994 – will be voting for the first time.
In Malawi, President Joyce Banda’s reforms will also be tested in May’s general elections. Banda has won acclaim in the west for bolstering the economy of this aid-dependent, impoverished country. But she faces accusations of being an International Monetary Fund stooge back home, where moves such as an IMF-backed devaluation of the kwacha currency have stoked inflation and sent food prices soaring for the rural poor.
A showdown between Kenya and the international criminal court looms, as President Uhuru Kenyatta faces trial in November for allegedly orchestrating violence during the 2007 presidential election that killed more than 1,100 people. Kenyatta has accused the court of disproportionately targeting African leaders.
With crises deepening in Central African Republic and South Sudan, 2014 will provide a stern test for peacemakers, among them French government troops and UN blue helmets.
April sees the 20th anniversaries of both the Rwandan genocide and South Africa’s first democratic election.
In at least one corner of Zimbabwe, there will be celebrations as Robert Mugabe turns 90 in February. The long-time ruler knows how to throw a party: last year, fans were invited to cut a 90kg four-tier cake, while 8,000 lobsters were dished up and gold coins were specially minted. The celebrations reportedly cost £400,000. Expect more of the same.
Monica Mark in Lagos
If ever there were a year in the Middle East in which negotiations matter, 2014 will be it. In all corners of the region, hopes of negotiated solutions to grave and escalating crises are higher than ever. So too are the stakes if they fail. At centre stage will be Iran, which clearly feels legitimised by the recent deal that allows it to continue its nuclear programme, under close supervision, while crippling economic sanctions are progressively eased.
But the deal could easily unravel, either through the influence of deeply wary US legislators, downright hostile Saudi leaders, or belligerent Israeli decision-makers, none of whom are happy with sanctions relief while centrifuges continue to spin. Iran hopes to parlay the deal into a broader role in solving the region’s myriad problems; first among them Syria, which is almost as important to its strategic interests as its nuclear reactors.
The civil uprising against Bashar al-Assad is now a convoluted mess of vested interests, from both near and far. Jihadist groups have arrived in the vacuum and are particularly strong in the north and east of the country where they, along with crumbling state control, pose a serious threat to the unitary borders of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. And, if the Kurds decide chaos creates for them a moment in history, Turkey faces a challenge to its defined borders too.
The chaos that is Syria has yielded a common foe: jihadists who have nothing to do with the original insurrection. Assad is pinning hopes on that being enough for the US and Europe to join with his forces and the remnants of the Free Syria Army to oust them instead of him. That would protect Iranian and Russian interests, but further upset Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Arab Gulf, which, along with Israel, fears the creep of Iranian influence perhaps more than anything else.
Meanwhile, spring 2014 is also the deadline for the US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian talks to reach a deal to end their historic conflict. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, may present a framework agreement early in the new year in effort to break the impasse that has existed for many months. That will put both sides on the spot, forcing them to confront possible compromises – and it could cause a crisis for Israel’s coalition government. But there’s still no guarantee that it will produce a deal.
Without a breakthrough, Israel faces the possibility of accelerating moves by the international community, especially the European Union, against settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and increasing political isolation.
The Palestinians might resume efforts to join global bodies such as the international criminal court, at which they will pursue their quest for a state. Conditions in Gaza may worsen further for its 1.7 million inhabitants. Frustration and anger there and in the West Bank could erupt in a return to violence.
On all fronts, resolutions are urgently needed. A fraught year ahead.
Martin Chulov and Harriet Sherwood
As President Xi Jinping continues to pursue his much-vaunted “Chinese dream” of “national rejuvenation”, China will continue to assert its territorial claims in disputed parts of the South and East China seas. Its strategy of slow, stepwise expansion has angered many of its neighbors, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, even Brunei. No one has shown any sign that they will back down. The chances of armed military conflict seem high.
Other buzzwords in China will be growth and reform. On 15 November, the country’s top leaders – many of them only a year into their posts – announced a dramatic reform agenda, and over the coming year they’ll prove whether they can deliver on their promises. They’ve pledged to relax the country’s one-child policy, allowing couples to have a second child if either parent is an only child; they plan to boost the private sector’s role in the state-controlled economy, hoping to improve conditions for a burgeoning middle class.
Beijing will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in 2014; the southern city Nanjing will host the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics.
The Communist party will address many of its greatest issues, but only on its own terms. Xi will continue to crack down on corruption, modernize the People’s Liberation Army, and keep the national GDP growing at a steady clip. He will tighten the reins on freedom of expression and dissent, as protests over land-grabs, inequality and environmental decay proliferate. Expect progressive legislation without implementation; do not expect leniency for dissidents or increased autonomy in Xinjiang and Tibet.
The great imponderable is North Korea, as critical to China as it is inscrutable. The recent execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle may prove a harbinger of greater instability, a headache that China could well do without.
Jon Kaiman in Beijing
With a World Cup and a presidential election, Brazil looks set to dominate Latin American headlines in 2014. Currently the odds on Dilma Rousseff securing a second term in October look slightly better than the Seleçao winning a sixth trophy in July, but they are both firm favourites. Another round of mass protests or a stadium collapse, however, and all bets in the country could be off.
It will be a big year for elections elsewhere in the region with presidential polls in El Salvador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Colombia and Panama. But, as in Brazil, that probably won’t mean much of a changing of the guard unless economies in the region slow down more than they did in 2013, which is a very real possibility.
At most risk in this regard is Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, who has a tough fight against inflation and recession on his hands. He will be glad not to face the electorate in 2014, but his rivals within the ruling camp remain a threat.
Arguably the most important of the polls is in Colombia, where the incumbent, Juan Manuel Santos, will be looking for a campaign boost from the peace talks his government is holding with Farc insurgents in Havana. Expect concrete progress before the first round of voting on 25 May or an election upset.
The saddest political departure will be that of José “Pepe” Mujica, who will be in his last year as Uruguayan president. With his austere lifestyle and solidly pragmatic leftwing leadership, he has given this small country a big global profile. Before he shuffles back to spend more time at his farm, the world will watching the results of his government’s country’s cannabis legalisation law, which comes into effect next year. If that works, it will not only add to Mujica’s legacy, but could provide a new template for other Latin American nations, particularly Mexico, Colombia and Peru, that are suffering a heavy toll in the “war on drugs.”
Counterintuitive prediction: a step forward in Cuban-US relations. Raúl Castro has made some small but significant openings in the past year. Obama has talked of the need for new thinking and a change is long overdue. The question is whether the vehemently anti-Castro Miami crowd can be bypassed, ignored or persuaded that a rapprochement is in everyone’s interests .
Jon Watts in Rio
Expect to learn a great deal about the first world war, as the various anniversary points come and go: the Sarajevo assassination (June), the outbreak of hostilities (August), that Christmas football match. While we’re on the subject of anniversaries, watch for recollections of 1964 (Beatlemania, Mary Poppins, intensification of the Vietnam war), 1989 (fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution) as well as the centenary not just of the Panama Canal but of the birth of Dylan Thomas. Oh, and if that’s not enough memory lane for you, then it’s the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn too.
Newsmakers will include Janet Yellen, poised to become the first female chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Vladimir Putin, who takes over leadership of the G8, and the former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, whose trial will continue. More recreationally, aside from the Sochi Olympics in February and the World Cup in June, the Tour de France starts in Yorkshire and the Ryder Cup tees off at Gleneagles.
And it’s not just 2014. Next year, the Islamic calendar ticks over to 1436. And in China, it’s the year of the horse. Those born in horse years are said to be sociable and energetic but also impatient. Right, time to get on. Happy new year.
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