Ones to Watch, 19 March 2018

Americas: Peru’s President Kuczynski to face second impeachment vote

Sectors: all
Key Risks: policy continuity; political stability; governability

In Peru, centre-right President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski will face an impeachment vote on 22 March triggered by allegedly lying about his links to Brazil’s scandal-ridden engineering conglomerate Odebrecht. Kuczynski narrowly survived a first impeachment vote in December 2017. On 15 March Congress voted 87 to 15 to begin impeachment proceedings against Kuczynski, who has denied the alleged corruption, for a second time. 87 out of 130 votes are needed to oust Kuczynski, whose party only holds 18 seats in the right-wing opposition-led unicameral Congress. Vice President Martin Vizcarra, set to replace Kuczynski should he be removed from office, stated he would not resign and call for early elections. Nevertheless, the later cannot be entirely ruled out should Kuczynski be impeached. Uncertainty and governability risks are expected to persist throughout 2018.

Asia-Pacific: Abe needs to find feet after construction scandal blow

Sectors: all
Key Risks:  political instability

In October 2017 Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe consolidated his Liberal Democratic Party’s grip on power by taking advantage of chaos in the opposition to reaffirm his mandate for economic reforms and military development. Yet already the election advantage may have been squandered. In recent weeks a scandal involving the sale of state-owned land to a friend of Abe’s wife for the construction of a nationalist school has resurfaced after the opposition published documents allegedly showing evidence that Abe’s team scrubbed government documents of traces linking the Abes to the sale. Abe denies wrongdoing and claims the fault lies with his staff. This week will reveal how lasting the damage will prove. While he is unlikely to lose his post, the distraction could lead to delays in Japan’s ratification of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

Eurasia: What to watch for after Putin’s re-election

Sectors:  all
Key Risks: domestic political inertia; continued foreign policy assertiveness

The 18 March re-election of Russian President Vladimir Putin was a foregone conclusion. However, it remains likely that the government will begin a number of significant initiatives and potentially consider policy changes in the aftermath of the vote. The better-than-expected result for new Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin could see the state look to engineer a new controlled left-wing opposition while divides wthin the non-systemic opposition are likely to grow, as highlighted by an election night scrap between anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, who led calls for a boycott, and liberal Ksenia Sobchak, who ran in the election despite accusations it made her a Kremlin stooge. Putin is likely to continue his assertive foreign policy, as highlighted by the nuclear threats he made two weeks before the vote. The government is likely to seek a new economic policy to stir growth, but there are so far no indications it will agree on one concrete set of policies as Putin continues to play the liberal reformist and statist factions against one another.

Europe: Slovak instability continues, Macedonia faces threat of major protests

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; protests

A week after Slovakia’s largest-ever demonstrations, tens of thousands of protesters again turned out in cities across the country to demand early elections, despite the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico the previous day. The demonstration in Bratislava was even larger than the previous week, with 65,000 taking part. Fico resigned in an agreement to maintain his Smer-SD party’s coalition with the centrist Most-Hid and right-wing Slovak National Party. He suggested his deputy Peter Pellegrini to take his post, which protesters allege will enable Fico to retain influence. Further protests are likely and the government could still collapse, leading to early elections. Meanwhile, tensions in Macedonia are rising after President Gjorge Ivanov refused to sign a bill making Albanian an official language on 14 March, although constitutionally it is unclear whether he could legally refuse. Ivanov is an ally of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party that ruled from 2006-2016. Senior leaders in VMRO-DPMNE called for protests aimed at overthrowing the government, a coalition of ethnic Albanian parties and the Social Democratic Union, to begin at an unspecified date in May.

MENA: Operation Olive Branch forces take Afrin amid YPG withdrawal

Sectors: all
Key Risks: war on land; terrorism; political violence; humanitarian crisis

On 18 March, Turkish forces and Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) units seized the city of Afrin in north-western Syria from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Entering before dawn they met no resistance. This was in part due to a YPG decision to tactically withdraw in order to preserve infrastructure and civilian lives as there were concerns the Turkish offensive would adopt a similar scorched-earth policy seen in the southern Turkish Kurdish-majority city of Sur in 2016. An estimated 150,000 citizens have fled Afrin in the last few days. Citizens remaining in Afrin reported continued clashes as pockets of YPG forces remained, and the risk of an insurgency increases. Widespread looting by Syrian forces has been documented. Having seized Afrin, Turkish armed forces are likely to begin a push towards Tal Rifaat and eventually Manbij, around 60 miles to the east.

Sub-Saharan Africa: President declared ‘Visionary’ ahead of constitutional referendum

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

Tensions are running high in Burundi ahead of a planned 17 May referendum on changes to the constitution that would open the door to President Pierre Nkurunziza, who was recently named ‘Visionary’ by his ruling party, remaining in power until 2034. The proposed changes include extending presidential terms from five to seven years, and his supporters argue a constitutional change should reset Nkurunziza’s candidacy. Burundi was plunged into violence in 2015 when Nkurunziza began seeking a third term that was seen as unconstitutional. Hundreds of thousands were displaced as a result. The government has continued to crackdown on activists and the opposition, and this could intensify ahead of the vote. Voter intimidation is also likely – there have already been reports of forced registration by the authorities.