Ones to Watch, 12 March 2018

Americas: Venezuelan opposition to resume anti-government protests

Sectors: all
Key Risks: civil unrest; security-force repression; political violence

In Venezuela, the opposition has called for nationwide anti-government demonstrations to take place on 17 March to protest against President Nicolas Maduro and the upcoming snap 20 May presidential election. This is the first time that the opposition has called on the population to take to the streets against the government since the end of four months of almost daily protests between April and July 2017, during which around 120 people were killed. The announcement was made during the presentation of the Frente Amplio Venezuela Libre, a new movement of opposition groups including opposition parties, students, union activists and university professors. The elections are not expected to be free or fair and the opposition is likely to step-up pressure for the government to provide guarantees or postpone the vote. Security-force repression should be expected during this and any other opposition-led demonstration.

Asia-Pacific: Violence to continue to rock Sri Lanka

Sectors: all
Key Risks:  targeted attacks; political polarisation; political instability

Anti-Muslim violence is expected to continue in Sri Lanka as hard-line Sinhalese Buddhists grow angrier over the minority Muslim presence in the country and are emboldened by the growing influence of ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa. The recent string of Buddhist-Muslim violent incidents began on 4 March in Kandy region. President Maithripala declared a nationwide state of emergency on 6 March and a social media blackout the next day. The riots resulted in three deaths, 20 wounded, and the destruction of over 200 Muslim buildings and mosques. The Sirisena administration will face increasing criticism from both communities: Muslims will demand greater protection from future attacks, and Rajapaksa’s Sinhalese Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka Podujana Party will accuse Sirisena of failing to maintain stability. Although peace has returned to Kandy, Muslim-Buddhist tensions will continue to threaten the country’s security.

Eurasia: UK to blame Moscow over Skripal, but response constrained; Uzbek-Tajik spring

Sectors:  energy; real estate; finance; cross-border trade; energy
Key Risks: sanctions; frustration of process

British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to formally accuse Russia of being behind the 4 March poisoning of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England. Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat told media the incident bore the signs of a state-sponsored murder attempt. British media has increasingly focused on the incident in recent days and it has renewed calls for Westminster to place additional sanctions on Moscow despite turbulence in its relationship with Brussels and doubts that the Trump Administration would support such a move. A major crackdown on Russian wealth being held in the UK is difficult to envisage and even the harshest response publicly floated by May’s government would be sanctions less intensive than those already in place in the US and Canada.  Meanwhile, relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are rapidly improving and on 9 March Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev declared the country would support major hydropower projects in Tajikistan that only three years ago it threatened war over.

Europe: Slovakia faces mounting political crisis

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability  

Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak resigned on 12 May , three days after the largest protests since the fall of communism over the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend. Local media posthumously published Kuciak’s investigations alleging connections between Prime Minister Robert Fico’s government and an Italian national alleged to represent the Ndrangheta mafia. Fico’s junior coalition partner, the centrist Most-Hid party associated with Slovakia’s Hungarian minority, demanded Kalinak resign if it were to continue to support the government. However, protests are expected to continue as it seems unlikely that that Kalinak’s resignation will appease them. President Andrej Kiska has pushed for the government to call early elections but Fico alleges the protests are being stoked by outside actors, adopting the populist rhetoric of Warsaw and Budapest’s leaders.

MENA: SAA to continue offensive

Sectors: all
Key Risks: war on land

On 12 March, the Syrian Arab Army successfully encircled the suburb of Harasta, east of Damascus during a wider offensive to separate off rebel-held neighbourhoods in eastern Ghouta from each other. On 11 March the SAA cut off the towns of Mudayra and Duma. A 10 March statement issued by a coalition of Free Syrian Army factions said they would not surrender nor accept a negotiated withdrawal. At least 1,100 people have been killed during the sustained three-week SAA offensive. Mortar attacks from the rebel-held area which includes the neighbourhoods of Jawbar, Ain Tarma and Kafr Batna are likely to continue in the coming days, although at a reduced rate. Over the coming week the SAA will continue offensives targeting Jisrin and Aftaris in the south-eastern part of the rebel-held territory, and likely make more territorial gains.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Ethiopia’s ruling party to select new Prime Minister

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

Ethiopia’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) will select a new prime minister this week, nearly a month after the resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn. The current favourite is Abiy Ahmed, the new head of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), although two of the other three coalition parties are also expected to put forward candidates. The successful candidate will be faced with the immediate task of placating years-long anti-government protests and the fallout from an incident on 11 March when the security forces killed at least nine civilians in the town of Moyale, Oromia region near the border with Kenya. The military blamed the incident on ‘faulty intelligence’, a claim residents have disputed. The murders have prompted thousands to flee across the border to Kenya and is likely to have a lasting impact on the region.