French presidential elections, Terrorist attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso, and Civil unrest in Jakarta
France: Emmanuel Macron secures second term in presidential run-off
Anti-government protests occurred in several cities across France on April 24 following the announcement of incumbent President Emmanuel Macron’s victory over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in this year’s presidential runoff – an election deemed to be critical in determining the future of France’s relationship with the European Union (EU). Hundreds of anti-Macron protesters gathered in central Paris following the announcement of the President’s re-election. French riot police deployed tear gas to disperse the growing number of demonstrators in the Republic Square. Security forces also opened fire on a vehicle that was allegedly speeding towards the officers on the Pont Neuf bridge, killing two protesters and injuring another. Civil unrest was not limited to Paris as hundreds took to the streets in the cities of Rennes, Lyon, Montpellier and Toulouse, burning trash cans and obstructing traffic, which resulted in at least eight arrests. Two people were also arrested in Lyon after shooting fireworks at the city’s town hall and a police car. Public response to this year’s election results was markedly more negative, compared to Macron’s first victory against Le Pen in 2017. While Macron accrued approximately 58.5% of the votes, various polls indicate that many voters supported Macron to prevent Le Pen from winning the presidency, as the majority of the population remains critical of Macron’s economic, COVID-19 and climate change policies. While Macron’s campaign centered around strengthening France’s involvement in the European Union, Le Pen’s platform has been consistently Euroskeptic throughout her political career. Although less severe than her former campaign proposals (which included a “Frexit” and departure from the euro), many experts believe that a Le Pen presidency would have greatly weakened the strength and cohesion of the EU. Le Pen’s relationship with Vladimir Putin also led to concerns that the candidate would use France to challenge and limit the EU and NATO’s response to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. While Macron secured another five-year term, the election underscored the growing political polarization in the country. The political division is likely to manifest itself in the upcoming parliamentary elections – Macron’s En Marche party must win a majority of the 577 seats in the National Assembly in order to pass laws and pursue Macron’s domestic agenda.
Burkina Faso and Mali: Simultaneous attacks leave casualties, highlight rising insecurity
Simultaneous attacks targeting military installations in Mali and Burkina Faso on the early morning of April 24 killed 21 people and underscored a worsening security environment in both countries following military coups. In Mali, suicide bombers drove explosive-laden vehicles into three military bases in Sevare, Niono and Bapho, killing six soldiers, injuring 20 others, and causing material damage. According to the statement released by the Defense Ministry, eleven attackers were killed in the incidents, while three others were arrested and a large amount of military equipment was seized. In northern Burkina Faso, simultaneous attacks on military units in Gaskinde and Pobe-Mengao killed nine soldiers, six civilians and injured 30 others. Katiba Macina – a Malian militant group operating under an umbrella of Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Mali and West Africa – claimed responsibility for the attacks in Mali, which demonstrates organization’s capability to deploy sophisticated and coordinated tactics against military targets. In addition to the recent incidents, the group has been responsible for the majority of violent activities and associated fatalities in the Sahel since 2016. While no group has claimed the attacks in Burkina Faso, Katiba Macina’s involvement is likely since the incidents occurred in Soum province – a known area of operations for Katiba Macina fighters. In the last two years, widespread dissatisfaction with the civilian governments over worsening security situation in Mali and Burkina Faso led to successful coups, allowing the respective military leadership to consolidate power. Military juntas vowed to improve security but attacks against civilians and the armed forces have persisted. France’s decision to reduce their military involvement in the region – triggered by political disagreements and Mali’s cooperation with private Russian military contractors – has also likely emboldened extremist organizations to intensify their operations. Continued political instability, combined with the reduction of foreign peacekeeping troops in the Sahel, likely indicates a further decline in the overall security environment in Mali and the wider West Africa region in the near-to-medium term.
Indonesia: Recent demonstrations in Jakarta raise concerns of prolonged civil unrest
Protracted domestic unrest in the near term is likely in Indonesia following two large demonstrations against President Joko Widodo over uncertainties surrounding the presidential election in 2024 and rising domestic costs of fuel and cooking oil. Tensions began after several senior politicians within the Widodo administration suggested that the president needs more time to stabilize the country’s economy following the COVID-19 pandemic, leading many to believe he may be seeking to hold onto power past his legal term limit. Under the constitution, presidents are chosen through direct elections and may only serve for two five-year terms, which many Indonesians view as critical to their democracy after decades of authoritarian rule which ended after similar popular unrest in 1998. Responding to these sentiments, thousands of students gathered outside Parliament and the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on April 11—with smaller gatherings in South Sulawesi and West Java—over concerns that the Widodo camp is considering amending the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. Indonesian security forces reportedly responded by deploying tear gas and water cannons, accusing demonstrators of throwing rocks into the parliamentary complex. To quell future unrest, Widodo has demanded his cabinet refrain from speaking about the election, while also having them confirm it will take place on February 14, 2024. However, the President notably refrained from promising not to run for a third term, spurring doubts about his integrity and prompting a second protest in Jakarta on April 21 – this demonstration reportedly transpired without incident. As part of their broader demands, organizers are calling for Widodo to outright reject a third term and any delays to the 2024 election, while also reducing skyrocketing prices of goods, especially palm oil. Though Widodo has taken steps to address the palm oil crisis by banning exports of certain types of palm oleins, many experts hypothesize the move will drive prices of other goods up further while ultimately hurting the Indonesian economy. Continued unrest throughout Indonesia is likely in the near term should the Widodo administration fail to meet the demands surrounding the 2024 election and the rising cost of vital goods.