Americas: decisive week for Gas Natural Fenosa – Electricaribe
Key Risks: union-led disruptive unrest and strikes
The coming week will be crucial for the future of Spain’s Gas Natural Fenosa’s (GNF) Colombian subsidiary Electricaribe (ECA), which has been under the control of the Colombian government since mid-November 2016. On 13 March GNF is expected to meet with Colombian officials to try to reach an agreement over ECA’s future before the deadline of the intervention expires on 14 March. On that day, the Colombian government will have to decide on whether to liquidate, nationalise or return ECA to GNF, while GNF will decide on its position regarding resorting to the ICSID for international arbitration. The EU is reportedly already working to mediate in the conflict at the request of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organisations (CEOE). Both parties have recently vowed to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, although this cannot be entirely guaranteed.
Asia-Pacific: too much unity threatens Timor-Leste ahead of presidential elections
Key Risks: elections; political instability; civil unrest
Citizens of Timor-Leste will go to the polls to choose a new president on 20 March, but with the country’s main two parties largely entwined and backing the same candidate, they may feel aggrieved at the lack of choice. In 2015 FRETILIN and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) parties reached a power-sharing agreement that put an end to years of political instability – a remarkable feat for a country on the brink of civil war in 2006. However, there is no effective political opposition facing FRETILIN–CNRT backed candidate Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres. Parliament is currently debating a land ownership law that could evict a quarter of the capital’s population from its homes. With people such as these essentially excluded from the political discussion, there is a risk that many citizens may express themselves through violent protest.
Eurasia: protests emerge in Georgia and Belarus but risks differ
Key Risks: civil unrest; political instability
The weekend of 10-12 March saw significant new developments for civil unrest in Eurasia, with protests sweeping across Belarus, where they have historically been extremely rare. The demonstrations are a continuation of those witnessed in recent weeks against the government’s so-called ‘unemployment tax’ and came despite President Alexander Lukashenko suspending the decree ordering the fine for those unemployed more than 181 days per year on 10 March. Further demonstrations, including one organise by the main extra-parliamentary opposition on 15 March, could result in unrest. The city of Batumi in Georgia’s autonomous Adjara region, which has a large Muslim majority also saw riots on 12 March over economic concerns and anger at the local police chief for using a religious slur to refer to Batumi’s residents. However, although the protests are representative of a growing risk of economically-motivated protests, it is unlikely Adjara will become more ethnically or religiously polarised given its regional institutions and the government’s docile response.
Europe: Turkey dominates news before Dutch vote amid spats with EU leaders
Key Risks: political instability, migration crisis
The Netherlands, Germany, and Austria banned Turkish referendum rallies from taking place in their countries in recent days. This prompted a hostile exchange of words between Turkey’s President, and Dutch and German leaders. On 12 March, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the recent disputes jeopardise the continuance of economic aid to Turkey. European Parliament Vice President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff demanded a ban on Turkish ministers campaigning in the EU. The Danish government also delayed a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim after a dispute with the Netherlands over efforts to hold a rally in Rotterdam, which resulted in major protests. EU relations with Turkey will be further shaken by these developments, raising the risk of Turkey reneging on the refugee deal. Dutch citizens go to the polls on 15 March and there are concerns the rally and heated tensions it prompted could boost the far-right Freedom Party (PVV).
MENA: referendum campaigning impacting political parties
Sectors: banking; finance; trade; retail
Key Risks: currency fluctuations; political instability; reduced investor confidence
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan increased his rhetoric while on the campaign trail in Turkey to support a ‘Yes’ vote in the 16 April referendum on constitutional change in response to widening domestic tensions, which now threaten to undermine Turkish and EU goodwill after verbal sparring with Dutch politicians over 11 and 12 February. Erdogan’s supporters, including leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli, are struggling to manage conflicting emotions within their own camps, reflecting tension regarding the reforms in Turkish society more broadly. The MHP has expelled three dissident deputies and one party member for their support of the ‘No’ campaign, highlighting the divisions within the party in the lead-up to the plebiscite. MHP supporters hold the key to winning the referendum. Turks, like the MHP remain deeply divided. Tensions in domestic politics will remain high through this week.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Buhari returns to Nigeria after extended medical leave
Key Risks: political uncertainty; policy hiatus; succession threats; sectarian tension
On 10 March President Muhammadu Buhari returned to Nigeria following extended medical leave in the UK. Public discussions have been pervaded by the president’s health, with Nigerians drawing parallels with former president Musa Yar’adua who died in office in 2010. However, in Buhari’s absence Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has re-energised politics, pressing ahead with much needed reforms. Nigeria announced an economic recovery plan on 7 March, incorporating various measures to bolster economic growth, which is projected to expand by 2.19 per cent this year. A US$500m Eurobond issuance is also expected shortly, in addition to a US$1bln World Bank loan to plug a record budget deficit. However, concerns over Buhari’s health will likely persist, increasing political uncertainty. The prospect of Osinbajo serving the remaining two years of Buhari’s term raises the risk of heightened sectarian tension given Nigeria’s federal system. It also raises concerns over a slowdown of the reform agenda, which may prove fatal to the ruling APC as the 2019 elections loom.