Ones to Watch, 22 October 2018

Americas: Far-right Jair Bolsonaro likely to win Brazil’s polarised presidential runoff

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability; civil unrest; policy changes

In Brazil, a highly polarised presidential runoff between right-wing frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro and leftist Workers’ Party candidate (PT) Fernando Haddad will be held on 28 October. Former army captain Bolsonaro was polling at almost around 60 per cent a week ahead of the vote, around 18 percentage points ahead of Haddad. Bolsonaro’s campaign has been focusing on tackling insecurity, violence and corruption, and he has positioned himself as the antithesis of the corruption and the political establishment that has led Brazil’s economic, political and security crises. Multiple pro- and anti- Bolsonaro demonstrations have taken place since the 7 October first round. A leftist victory seems increasingly unlikely although last minute surprises cannot be ruled out. Electoral-related unrest should be expected and could potentially increase in the weeks following the vote regardless of the result.

Asia-Pacific: Thousands of citizens in Taiwan take part in anti-Chinese protest

Sectors: all
Key Risks: external conflict; civil unrest; political stability

Up to 120,000 people gathered outside the headquarters of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) in Taipei to call for President Tsai Ing-wen to take a stronger stance against Beijing amid mounting Chinese military and diplomatic pressure on the island. Protesters demanded a referendum on a formal split from China, a move that would be considered highly proactive by the Chinese government. It is the first large-scale protest calling for an outright independence vote since Taiwan became a democracy 20 years ago. The incident reflects a rising resentment among some Taiwanese citizens over increased pressure from Beijing since the DPP took over from the more China-friendly Nationalist party. While the DPP has sought to distance itself from the movement, Tsai will ultimately need to balance demands for independence with threats from Beijing to use military force to block it.

Eurasia: Presidential elections in Georgia

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability; reform agenda

Voters head to the polls in Georgia’s presidential elections on 28 October. Independent Salome Zurabishvili is expected to win the largest share of votes, potentially even a majority in the first round, as she is backed by the Georgian Dream party, the country’s largest. However, the Georgian Dream has been riled by internal squabble lately, which could leave room for opposition candidates to make headway. The main opposition party, the United National Movement, split in 2016 and its presidential candidate in the 2012 race, David Bakradze, is now the European Georgia party’s candidate though he has said he will support UNM candidate Grigol Vashadze if he makes Vashadze to the second round. The ultra-liberal candidate Zura Japaridze has seen his profile rise after successfully convincing the Supreme Court to legalise cannabis earlier this year but despite sizeable support in Tbilisi is unlikely to gain traction elsewhere.

Europe: US to push for Kosovo withdrawal, and end of INF treaty

Sectors: all
Key Risks: Kosovar peace process; nuclear security

On 19 October US Ambassador to the United Nations asked UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to draw up a plan to end the UN’s mission in Kosovo. Haley said the body had long achieved its mandate, though it still plays a role in overseeing the de facto border between Kosovo and Serbia, which does not recognise Kosovo’s independence. The UN Security Council would have to unanimously approve an end to the mission. Regional officials have warned tensions could spike without UN oversight. The following day US President Donald Trump said he would withdraw from the INF Treaty with Russia, which Washington alleges the Kremlin has violated for years. However, numerous EU officials have warned against the move, noting it would allow the renewed deployment of chemical weapons that could put it at risk of being turned into a nuclear battlefield in the event of a US-Russian war.

MENA: Saudi Arabia takes oil embargo off the table as calls for punitive measures increase

Sectors: defense; oil & gas; finance
Key Risks: sanctions; contract frustration

Riyadh rejected a 1973-style retaliatory oil embargo against Western countries, as world leaders called for punitive measures following an official Saudi confirmation that Jamal Khashoggi was killed during a ‘rogue operation’. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that arms exports to Saudi Arabia should not continue while questions remain unanswered. US President Donald Trump raised the possibility of imposing sanctions, but dismissed cancelling weapon sales. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister admitted that Khashoggi was killed in a fight in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, blaming his death on a rogue operation. The statement attempts to absolve Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) of any involvement. Ankara indicated it would release information about the investigation later this week, which may undermine Riyadh’s version of events. Congressional leaders continue to push for punitive measures but given Riyadh’s economic power and strategic importance, they may be largely symbolic.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Rebel violence exacerbates Ebola threat in north-eastern DRC

Sectors: humanitarian
Key Risks: health crisis; political violence

On 17 October the World Health Organization decided not to declare the Ebola outbreak that has claimed over 150 lives in the north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo an international health emergency ‘at this time’. Nonetheless, the organisation warned the situation was worsening, and the risk of the virus spreading further remained high unless the response was stepped up. The risk is greatly aggravated by escalating rebel violence. The presence of militias has impeded access to affected areas, and health workers have themselves become the target of attacks. There is hope, however: an experimental vaccine being tested has delivered promising results, but local distrust toward western medicine means progress is slower than it could be. The coming weeks will thus be critical. With at least one case reported near the border with Uganda, the risk of the outbreak turning into an international epidemic remains real.