Ones to Watch, 11 December 2017

Americas: Protests to continue in Honduras a Orlando tries to hold on to power

Sectors: all
Key Risks: civil unrest; political instability

Further violence and protests are likely across Honduras in the week ahead as public anger over the contentious reelection of President Juan Orlando continues. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s announcement on 10 December that a partial vote recount still put Orlando ahead on 50.1 per cent of the vote is unlikely to sate supporters of the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, who call for a total recount with international supervision. The election drew criticism from the EU and electoral watchdogs. However, the US has had a relatively hands-off policy with regards to Honduras since the 2009 crisis over the removal of then-president Manuel Zelaya by the Honduran Supreme Court. With protests not abating, reports of police units refusing to enforce temporary curfews, growing condemnation from the Organisation of American States (OAS), Orlando will come under increasing pressure to stand aside and international pressure could grow.

Asia-Pacific: North Korea threat high on agenda as President Moon visits Beijing

Sectors: all
Key Risks: regional instability; frustration of process

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will arrive in Beijing for a four-day visit on 13 December, his first state visit to China since taking office. Bilateral tensions have cooled since 2016, when China temporarily boycotted South Korean goods in protest against Seoul’s deployment of the US-operated Terminal High-Altitude Aerial Defence system. While Moon is interested in discussing bilateral trade and investment, the main priority is peacefully addressing North Korea’s nuclear build up. Moon reportedly rejected China’s suggestion that South Korea halt joint military exercises with the US in exchange for Pyongyang’s denuclearisation, although Beijing is likely to push the issue. Moon will tread carefully; he will want to avoid a return of Beijing’s de-facto economic sanctions against Seoul from earlier this year, but equally, he will remain well aware that the US remains South Korea’s best security guarantee.

Eurasia: Tensions continue to escalate in Ukraine, Turkmenistan agrees to arbitration with Iran 

Sectors: all; energy
Key Risks: political instability, frustration of process, diversification of markets

Roughly ten thousand people demonstrated in central Kiev on 10 December in support of anti-corruption efforts and ex-Georgian president and ex-Odessa governor Mikheil Saakashvili in what were amongst Ukraine’s largest demonstrations since 2014. The demonstrations were organised to protest Saakashvili’s arrest by on 8 December and to demand the resignation of President Petro Poroshenko. Many see the government as dragging its feet on anti-corruption efforts and mismanaging the response could fuel unrest. On 5 December, Turkmenistan also agreed to arbitration with Iran over its claims that Tehran still owes US$1.8bln in overdue gas payments. The dispute caused Iran to halt Turkmen gas purchases on 1 January and the arbitration is a sign Ashgabat is looking to restart sales as its economy faces difficult headwinds and presently solely exports gas to China.

Europe: Poland’s prime ministerial reshuffle unlikely to significantly affect policy 

Sectors: all
Key Risks political tensions with Brussels, politicisation of judiciary

The Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament, voted to approve two bills enhancing the government’s control over the Supreme Court and judicial appointments on 8 December. The opposition alleges the bills are nearly identical to similar legislation withdrawn this summer in the face of mass protests and European Union condemnation. The Senate and President Andrzej Duda are expected tosupport the bill. The move came a day after the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) replaced Beata Szydło with Mateusz Morawiecki as prime minister, a move that the government attempted to present as an effort to improve relations with Brussels. However, PiS policy remains set by party-grandee Jaroslaw Kaczynski and little change to policy should be expected, although Morawiecki is expected to engage in more amiable rhetoric.

MENA: Regional rejection of Jerusalem declaration to increase tensions with US

Sectors:  all
Key Risks: diplomatic tensions; civil unrest; civil commotion

Public tensions between Arab nations and the United State will increase further ahead of the Organisation of Islamic Countries’ (OIC) summit on 13 December in Istanbul and Vice President Mike Pence’s visit tothe Middle East next week as a result of President Donald Trump’s 6 December announcement that the US recognised Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. Governments across the region have issued statements condemning the change in policy. Senior Muslim and Christian clerics have refused planned meetings with Pence in light of the announcement. Palestinian officials have said they will seek an alternative broke for negotiations, although this will have little impact on talks that have barely progressed in the last decade. The OIC summit is expected to result in a strongly-worded statement critical of the policy change, and although relatively small-scale protests are likely to continue, this will not lead to formal policy changes towards the US from OIC countries.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Biggest attack on UN peacekeepers in decades shows growing instability

Sectors: mining and extractives
Key Risks: political instability; armed clashes; humanitarian crisis

Last week, the MONUSCO peacekeeping base in the town of Semuliki, North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was attacked, leading to the deaths of at least 15 Tanzanian UN peacekeepers, and injuring a further 53. The attack, reportedly perpetrated by Ugandan Islamist group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), is the worst in recent UN peacekeeping history. Questions will not only be raised about the response to the initial call of help on 8 December, but about growing instability as political tensions grow in capital Kinshasa as President Joseph Kabila refuses to stand down from power almost a year after his mandate expired. Thousands have been displaced in recent months, as clashes between over 80 militant groups in the area and Congolese armed forces continue – with all elements guilty of committing grave human rights abuses and acting with impunity.