Americas: Ecuador to face historic presidential runoff
Key Risks: political stability; policy continuity; social unrest
In Ecuador, a historic presidential runoff is scheduled to take place on 2 April between ruling party Alianza Pais (AP) candidate Lenin Moreno and opposition centre-right Creando Oportunidades (CREO) candidate Guillermo Lasso. Even though Lasso appeared to head the polls right after the 19 February first round, according to data released on 21 March Moreno now appears to be the frontrunner. However, the margins remain extremely tight and around 16 per cent of the electorate remains undecided. An unprecedented delay in counting and releasing the final results of the first round raised suspicions over potential electoral fraud. Scrutiny over the upcoming runoff is likely to increase, with the potential for localised unrest should unjustified delays occur. Ecuador is expected to face both political stability and policy continuity challenges as President Rafael Correa’s 10-year rule comes to an end.
Asia-Pacific: special court to rule on Park Geun-hye arrest
Key Risks: political instability
On 30 March a special court in Seoul will decide on whether to put out an arrest warrant for South Korea’s erstwhile president Park Geun-hye after the prosecution suggested she might try to destroy incriminating evidence of receiving bribes and leaked confidential state matters to her confidante Choi Soon-Sil, who is already on trial. Park became the country’s first elected leader to be ousted from office on 10 March after the constitutional court upheld the National Assembly’s decision to impeach her. Many older Koreans associate Park with her father Park Chung-hee, who rapidly accelerated South Korea’s development, and believe her fall will harm national security. While it is likely that Park is heading for prison in any event, her arrest would be an additional indignity that will add to tensions between Park’s supporters and her critics ahead of the country’s elections scheduled for 9 May.
Eurasia: opposition finds renewed purpose in Minsk and Moscow
Sectors: state-owned businesses; agriculture; fertilisers; energy
Key Risks: civil unrest; political violence; political instability
The weekend of 24-26 March saw the largest demonstrations in Russia since 2012 as well as arguably the largest in Belarus since 2006. The former were organised by opposition figure and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, while those in Belarus have been less centralised and primarily fuelled by economic concerns as Belarus remains in its third year of recession. In Russia, the protests were notable as hundreds took to the streets in cities that traditionally have little liberal opposition activity such as Makhachkala, Vladivostok and Ulyanovsk. Nevertheless, the protest movement poses little immediate risk to the Russian government, although demands to investigate Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s alleged corruption will cause reputational damage to many businesses. The protests in Belarus have more potential to escalate, particularly given the government’s propensity for violent crackdowns.
Europe: Northern Irish collapse imminent ahead of Brexit announcement
Key Risks: political instability
Stormont and Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions are on the verge of collapse, with a 1600hrs local time deadline for Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to form a government all but guaranteed to pass without agreement. Failure to do so will see power transferred to the Northern Ireland office, which can extend talks, call new elections, or order power returned to Westminster as per the Good Friday Agreement. This would put the British government in a tight position a day before Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to trigger the process for leaving the European Union. In recent days May has tried to highlight Brexit as a process for bringing the UK’s constituent countries together, much to the consternation of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is expected to escalate her rhetoric demanding a new independence referendum. The moves highlights the vast centrifugal tendencies that will increasingly become threats to British unity and political stability as the Brexit process unfolds.
MENA: new coalition government agreed in Morocco
Sectors: manufacturing; industry
Key Risks: strikes; civil unrest
On 25 March, the new Moroccan prime minister Saad Eddine el-Othmani announced he had successfully formed a cabinet with five other broadly liberal political parties, breaking nearly six months of post-election deadlock. El-Othmani was appointed after his fellow Justice and Development Party (PJD) member and former prime minister Abdulilah Benkirane was unable to form a government. The five other coalition members are the National Rally of Independents (RNI), the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), the Popular Movement (MP), the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS) and the Constitutional Union (UC). Altogether they control 240 of 395 seats in parliament. The coalition partners are likely to limit PJD influence over policymaking. Although the parties espouses socially-inclined politics, its socially conservative values may be an anathema, with the partners stymieing legislation that does fit with their liberal world view.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Zuma recalls Gordhan from investor forum, rand tumbles in its wake
Key Risks: cabinet reshuffle; market turmoil; credit-rating downgrade; party factionalism
In a shock move, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma summoned Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas back from an international investor roadshow in the UK, an opportunity to boost investor confidence given increasing levels of political risk and sluggish economic growth. The rand tumbled 3 per cent on the news. No reason was given for the decision, which has fuelled speculation of an imminent cabinet reshuffle targeting Gordhan. Indeed, many have linked it to Gordhan and the Treasury’s role in exposing and restricting two pressing corruption scandals: the influence of the wealthy Indian Gupta family and the social grants crisis. The Gupta family earlier filed an affidavit challenging Gordhan’s personal absence from a hearing over his decision not to intervene in major banks’ decisions to terminate accounts of the family’s Oakbay Investments. A reshuffle targeting Gordhan would spark market chaos and likely prompt a credit rating downgrade to junk status.