Ones to Watch, 2 October 2017

Americas: Government and ELN begin temporary bilateral ceasefire

Sectors: all
Key Risks: terrorism; insurgency

In Colombia, the government and the leftist ELN guerrillas began a temporary bilateral ceasefire on 1 October scheduled to last until 9 January 2018, with the possibility of an extension. The agreement, the first in over 50 years of conflict, is the most important achievement since ongoing formal peace talks between the parties began in February 2017 in Ecuador’s capital Quito. ELN commander Nicolas ‘Gabino’ Rodriguez ordered the guerrillas to respect the agreement. The ELN has said it will stop kidnappings, the enrolment of minors, attacks on key energy infrastructure and the use of anti-personnel mines. However, complete compliance cannot be guaranteed. Developments over the coming months will be crucial to assess the potential for the formal peace talks and the prospect of reaching a peace agreement in 2018, although the process has the potential to last longer.

Asia-Pacific: Thai junta seeks to revive US relationship in Washington

Sectors: all
Key Risks: investment; international relations

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will meet United States President Donald Trump at the White House on 3 October. The junta had a chilly relationship with the Obama administration after a military coup removed Yingluck Shinawatra from power in 2014, ushering in a period of military authoritarianism. Trump, however, has ignored the junta’s human rights abuses and Washington is seeking a closer relationship to counter Beijing’s growing influence in Thailand. Chinese investment has increased manifold, especially in infrastructure projects and the Eastern Economic Corridor development plan. Trump is also seeking Thailand’s cooperation in pressuring the North Korean regime, as Thai businesses maintain strong economic ties with Pyongyang. Prayuth welcomes the US outreach, which serves to burnish his image as an influential leader ahead of a long-delayed, tentatively-scheduled election next year in which he is likely to run.

Eurasia: Tensions ahead of Kyrgyz elections, but ties with Uzbekistan set to improve

Sectors: all
Key Risks: civil unrest; internal conflict

On 30 September, Kyrgyzstan’s General Prosecutor’s Office filed charges against well-known MP Kanatbek Isayev alleging Isayev was planning a coup if Omurbek Babanov fails to win the 15 October presidential election. A series of alleged leaks appearing to show Isayev agreeing to pay criminal groups were posted online. Babanov is seen as the leading candidate apart from favourite Sooronbai Jeenbekov, a protege of outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev. The same weekend, Babanov claimed the State Committee on National Security had told him that he would win the election, a statement the committee subsequently denied. There is a risk of election-related and post-election unrest and there are growing concerns that the government will crack down during the vote. However, relations between Bishkek and neighbouring Uzbekistan are likely to continue to slowly approve after Atambayev signed a law demarcating 85 per cent of their shared border on 2 October.

Europe: Polls indicate victory for Kurz in Austria as German coalition talks underway

Sectors: all
Key Risks: populism; political fracturing

Polls generally show the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), led by outgoing Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, are set to win Austria’s 15 October legislative elections. There are concerns that the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) will finish in second place and that Kurz will seek to form a coalition with them, although he has previously explicitly refused to do so. A ÖVP-FPÖ government could potentially be rebuked by Brussels and would likely side with Hungary and Poland on internal European disputes, with the youthful Kurz giving the populist bloc within the EU a more effective voice. Meanwhile, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding coalition talks with the Greens and Free Democrats but is unlikely to agree a government until late November or December at the earliest.

MENA: Difficult days ahead for Kurdistan

Sectors: aviation; energy; trade
Key Risks: delayed/non-payment; contract frustration; sanctions

At 1800 local time on 29 September, the last international passenger plane left Erbil International Airport in the Kurdistan autonomous region of Iraq, with the resumption of flights not likely until year end. The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority issued a notice to international carriers that they would not be permitted access to Kurdish airspace as a result of the 25 September independence referendum. There are reports of Iraqi federal soldiers taking up positions adjoining Turkish border posts in preparation for inserting themselves as an additional and ultimate layer of border control potentially as soon as this week. The Iraqi government and their allies’ actions will be more subtle than their words, with diplomatic overtures likely in the background, although the risk of an escalation continues and may yet increase.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Presidential age limit debate rages on in Uganda

Sectors: all
Key Risks: protests; civil unrest; political instability

Ugandan lawmakers came to blows in parliament on two consecutive days on 26 and 27 September over a proposed constitutional amendment that would scrap presidential age limits. The bill is a measure to extend the rule of long-serving President Yoweri Museveni, who in 1986 commented ‘The problem of Africa, and Uganda in particular, is not the people but the leaders who want to overstay in power’. Thirty-one years on Museveni appears to have changed his mind. The motion to introduce the bill was approved after dissenting MPs were forcibly removed from parliament. Lawmakers will now vote on the bill. It is likely to pass given the ruling NRM’s parliamentary majority, but this will not prevent further protests from taking place in Kampala. A forceful response can be expected from the police, who have also cracked down upon pro-democracy NGOs and opposition figures such as Museveni’s long-time rival Kizza Besigye, who is no stranger to the Kampala police cells.