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5 elections to watch in 2023 — what’s at stake as millions head to the ballot box around the globe

Zimbabwe, Turkey, Argentina, Pakistan and Nigeria all have presidential or general elections in 2023.

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Heading to the ballot box in 2023 smartboy10 via Getty Images

Predicting the outcome of national elections can be a mug’s game. Polls are often wrong, and second-guessing how people will vote months down the line can leave even the most savvy election specialist with egg on their face.

In short, there are too many unknowns – the state of the economy, late political shocks and even the weather on election day. What is known is that 2023 has its fair share on consequential races. Democracy is on the ballot in a number of nations, while common themes – such as the handling of inflation and corruption – may determine how incumbent governments and presidents fare as the ballot box. The Conversation asked five experts to provide the lowdown on what is at stake in key national votes in 2023.

Here are their psephological pearls of wisdom:

Nigeria (Feb. 25)

Carl LeVan, professor of comparative and regional studies at American University

Some of the campaign dynamics heading into the Nigerian presidential election will seem familiar to those who follow the country, with politics still deeply entwined with the country’s geographic-religious divide between a predominantly Muslim north and its Christian south. And after eight years of a northerner – Muhammadu Buhari – holding the presidency, debate revolves around whether power should “shift” to the south.

Buhari, in line with the constitution, is stepping down after serving two four-year terms – and that changes the electoral landscape. For only the second time since the transition to civilian rule in 1999, there’s no incumbent presidential candidate.

Having no incumbent seeking reelection has historically increased the chances of opposition party victory in Africa. Arguably for the first time since the 1980s, each of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria has produced a serious presidential contender: Atiku Abubakar who is of Hausa-Fulani descent, the Yoruba former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu and former Anambra governor Peter Obi, a member of the Igbo.

An overhead shows a group fo mainly men holding aloft placards.
Supporters of the ruling All Progressive Congress. Kola Sulaimon/AFP via Getty Images

While this might seem like progress – and has advanced inter-ethnic cooperation in the presidential campaign – it also dramatically increases the risk of no clear winner under the constitution’s formula that requires both a plurality of votes and a geographical distribution of support. A runoff has never before taken place, and the electoral commission would have only a week to organize it.

Security and poverty are key electoral themes. Buhari won in 2015 by prioritizing economic growth, anti-corruption and the defeat of the world’s deadliest insurgency, Boko Haram. Yet today, more than 80 million Nigerians remain in poverty, while insecurity ravages the country. The scale of violence plaguing Nigeria has not been seen since the civil war ended in 1970, while the geographical scope is unprecedented. Meanwhile, only 15% of Nigerians feel more loyalty to their nation than to their ethnic group.

This raises the specter of electoral violence and voter intimidation in the run-up to the Feb. 23 vote. Political violence, both between and within political parties, increased in 2022. Despite this, candidates have been largely running on hopeful messages about economic diversification, anti-corruption and opportunities for Nigeria’s youth.

Turkey (June 18)

Ahmet Kuru, professor of political science at San Diego State University

People in Turkey tend to call every presidential election historic – but the June 2023 election will truly be historic. It will determine whether the increasingly autocratic rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will continue to dominate the country’s politics or not. What’s at stake is not simply “politics” in the narrow sense of the term, but also the direction in economic policy, religion, education and many other fields.

If Erdogan wins, it could portend a further erosion of the remaining opposition in Turkish public life, especially given his past record of authoritarianism and vengefulness. Indeed, there is already a suspicion that potential presidential candidates are being targeted, with the popular mayor of Istanbul being sentenced to prison in December – a conviction that if held up on appeal would bar him from running for any political office.

The danger is the Turkish opposition will lose hope for the future. It could also exacerbate the country’s “brain drain” problem – as well-educated people, including medical doctors, academics, and businesspeople, migrate to Western countries, weakening the opposition at home.

A large cut out head of a man is held aloft a crowd.
Erdogan looms large over the Turkish vote. Ozan Guzelce / dia images via Getty Images

An Erdogan loss would be hugely consequential. Those who have been silenced under his rule will be able to speak up again. Over a hundred thousand people have been jailed as part of Erdogan’s political purge. It would not surprise me that in the event of an Erdogan loss, legal action is taken against him and his civil servants over alleged abuses and against his crony-capitalists over alleged corruption.

The outcome of the election will also determine the future of religion-state relations. Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, which controls 80,000 mosques, is a major ally of Erdogan. Any change in the administration is likely to result in curtailing of the directorate’s powers.

The 2023 presidential election will be fought over politics, economics and religion. If Erdogan wins, he will frame himself as the second founder of Turkey, after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. If he loses, his political, business, and religious allies will face the risk of being expunged.

Zimbabwe (likely July-August)

Miles Tendi, associate professor of politics at the University of Oxford

The 2023 election in Zimbabwe will be the second national vote to take place after the downfall of the country’s former leader Robert Mugabe.

The country’s last election, in 2018, occurred a year after a military coup ended Robert Mugabe’s oppresive 37-year-long leadership. But contrary to the hopes of many Zimbabweans and foreign governments, that ballot did not prove to be a momentous break from the country’s extensive history of disputed and violent elections – underlining that powerful systemic problems, such as the conflation of the ruling ZANU PF party and the state, generate flawed elections in Zimbabwe.

Whether Zimbabwe can finally stage an election that is universally accepted as credible is one of the key issues in 2023. A credible election in itself will not bring about consequential political, economic and social reforms. But Western states and international donors such as the International Monetary Fund will be looking for an unblemished national vote as a prerequisite to earnest economic and diplomatic re-engagement with Zimbabwe after years of strained relations.

A woman cast a ballot during a Zimbabwean by-election on March 26, 2022. Zinyange Auntony / AFP via Getty Images

Observers will also be hoping for improvements on women’s political rights. The gendered nature of political leadership, violence, election campaigns and voting behavior have precluded equal representation for women in Zimbabwean politics. Only 26 of the 210 constituencies in the 2018 parliamentary election were won by women candidates. Although four women ran for president in 2018, none managed more than 4% of the vote share.

The future of opposition politics is also on the ballot. Since 2018, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has had to contend with state repression, internal splits and underfunding. In the intervening years it has failed to get large numbers of new voters onto the electoral register.

If the ruling ZANU PF party pulls off the overwhelming election victory it is working towards, it is likely that the opposition will be further saddled with division and disillusionment, posing an existential threat to the kind of vibrant opposition politics led by the MDC in the past two decades. And with no strong opposition to challenge and keep a check on ZANU PF, the danger is authoritarian rule will be solidified.

Argentina (October 29)

Eduardo Gamarra, professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University

Even with a World Cup to savor, many Argentinians are pretty gloomy going into the 2023 election year – for good reason. The nation’s economy has been on the skids for a long time and it has one of the highest per capita debts in Latin America. On top of this there are sky-high inflation, low wages and poor growth – all worsened by the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not all of these problems are the sole making of President Alberto Fernández and his powerful vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – both from the center-left Peronist faction. In fact, former President Mauricio Macri racked up massive levels of debt to the IMF before being voted out in 2019. But it is fair to say that Fernández and Fernández de Kirchner have been unable to solve the country’s economic problems.

A woman wearing a beige jacket flashes a 'v for victory' sign while standing on a balcony.
Will it be ‘v’ for victory for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner? Juan Mabromata/AFP via Getty Images

Moreover, the pair have been plagued by other problems, notably corruption – both old-style political patronage and modern corruption based in drug trafficking throughout the country.

Indeed on Dec. 6, 2022, Fernández de Kirchner was sentenced to six years in jail in a scandal over a kickback scheme that saw public contracts go to a friend in return for bribes.

Some are even predicting that the combination of mishandling the economy and the corruption scandal could bring an end to Peronism, the political philosophy that has governed Argentina for much of last 70 years. Indeed the Peronists appear to be struggling with unifying around a candidate to contest the election.

Meanwhile, the party of Mauricio Macri is similarly split, with the former president facing strong challenges from within his own party.

These political and economic circumstances may favor a third contended: Javier Milei, a populist libertarian who has been rising in the polls and whose brusque style has drawn comparisons with Donald Trump.

Pakistan (by end of 2023)

Ayesha Jalal, professor of history at Tufts University

Pakistani elections are all about power. In particular, this one will be all about whether ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan can get the two-third majority he says he wants to govern Pakistan. Anything less will not satisfy the former national cricket star.

A big question is when the elections will take place. In Pakistan, general elections are not held under an incumbent government. Instead, an interim government – typically made up of technocrats – takes over with an election having to take place within 90 days.

But with the ruling coalition seemingly intent on holding on to power for as long as possible while the country faces an economic crisis, environmental disaster and a credibility crisis it is unclear when the national assembly will dissolve and an interim government take over. And that could mean pushing the election toward the end of the year.

Either way, it will be a consequential election. It remains to be seen if the current coalition government – which ousted Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party last year – will hold together, as it consists of a number of parties.

Khan has said he wants a two-third majority to bring about the constitutional changes he would like. So if he fails to get that, will he still be satisfied?

A man holds a poster depicting Imran Khan next to the words 'Last Hope'
Imran Khan is hoping for a two-thirds majority. Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images)

Either way, the 2023 election is unlikely to be the answer to Pakistan’s woes. Whoever is in charge after will need to paper over the economic cracks with the help of the International Monetary Fund; without a further bailout, Pakistan won’t have the liquidity it needs to function.

You can never rule out electoral violence. Pakistan is awash with guns and is very polarized. Violence marred the election in 2013 and there has been recent violence in northern Pakistan as well as the shooting of Khan at a rally.

That said, the hope is the nation’s security forces can keep a lid on violence during the election.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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Another country is getting ready to launch a visa for digital nomads

Early reports are saying Japan will soon have a digital nomad visa for high-earning foreigners.

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Over the last decade, the explosion of remote work that came as a result of improved technology and the pandemic has allowed an increasing number of people to become digital nomads. 

When looked at more broadly as anyone not required to come into a fixed office but instead moves between different locations such as the home and the coffee shop, the latest estimate shows that there were more than 35 million such workers in the world by the end of 2023 while over half of those come from the United States.

Related: There is a new list of cities that are best for digital nomads

While remote work has also allowed many to move to cheaper places and travel around the world while still bringing in income, working outside of one's home country requires either dual citizenship or work authorization — the global shift toward remote work has pushed many countries to launch specific digital nomad visas to boost their economies and bring in new residents.

Japan is a very popular destination for U.S. tourists. 

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This popular vacation destination will soon have a nomad visa

Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Latvia and Malta are some of the countries currently offering specific visas for foreigners who want to live there while bringing in income from abroad.

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With the exception of a few, Asian countries generally have stricter immigration laws and were much slower to launch these types of visas that some of the countries with weaker economies had as far back as 2015. As first reported by the Japan Times, the country's Immigration Services Agency ended up making the leap toward a visa for those who can earn more than ¥10 million ($68,300 USD) with income from another country.

The Japanese government has not yet worked out the specifics of how long the visa will be valid for or how much it will cost — public comment on the proposal is being accepted throughout next week. 

That said, early reports say the visa will be shorter than the typical digital nomad option that allows foreigners to live in a country for several years. The visa will reportedly be valid for six months or slightly longer but still no more than a year — along with the ability to work, this allows some to stay beyond the 90-day tourist period typically afforded to those from countries with visa-free agreements.

'Not be given a residence card of residence certificate'

While one will be able to reapply for the visa after the time runs out, this can only be done by exiting the country and being away for six months before coming back again — becoming a permanent resident on the pathway to citizenship is an entirely different process with much more strict requirements.

"Those living in Japan with the digital nomad visa will not be given a residence card or a residence certificate, which provide access to certain government benefits," reports the news outlet. "The visa cannot be renewed and must be reapplied for, with this only possible six months after leaving the countr

The visa will reportedly start in March and also allow holders to bring their spouses and families with them. To start using the visa, holders will also need to purchase private health insurance from their home country while taxes on any money one earns will also need to be paid through one's home country.

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