Ones to Watch, 28 January 2019

Americas: Further anti-government unrest expected in Venezuela as pressure on Maduro mounts

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; civil unrest; violent crackdown on dissent

In Venezuela, opposition National Assembly President Juan Guaido called for anti-government demonstrations on 30 January and 2 February amid growing pressure for President Nicolas Maduro to call snap elections. Nationwide protests reignited on 21 January following the rebellion of 27 National Guard officials against Maduro. At least 29 people have been killed and over 350 arrested since then. Guaido declared himself interim president on 23 January, supported by the US and most countries in the region. On 26 January France, Germany, Spain and the UK stated they would recognise Guaido as interim president should Maduro fail to call snap election by 3 February. The EU issued a similar, although less specific, statement. The role of the military will remain crucial in determining Maduro’s position. The risk of violent unrest and arbitrary detentions will remain high over the coming days.

Asia-Pacific: At least 20 killed in bomb attack in the Philippines days after Mindanao referendum

Sectors: all
Key Risks: terrorism

In the Philippines’ Mindanao region at least 20 people, including members of the security forces, were killed and 111 others injured in a twin bomb attack on 27 January targeting the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu province. The attack was likely carried out by Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants. On 21 January residents in Mindanao overwhelmingly voted in favour of the Bangsomoro Organic Law (BOL) to create an autonomous, Muslim majority region. However, residents on the island of Jolo voted to reject the BOL. The twin bomb attacks on the cathedral, which has been targeted by ASG and Islamic State (IS)-affiliated militants in the past, may have been carried in retaliation for rejecting the vote for further autonomy in Mindanao. The attack also highlights ASG’s continued might in the area despite tough government crackdowns.

Eurasia: After 18 years, first signs of Afghan peace deal emerge

Sectors: all
Key Risks: terrorism

On 28 January US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad announced that Taliban officials agreed a framework for a tentative peace deal. The announcement came hours after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gave a publicly televised statement calling for direct talks with the Taliban. The deal reportedly centres on Taliban pledges to stop the country from becoming a safe haven for international Islamist extremist militants, but it is only preliminary and US officials said that progress on such talks would be required for the deal to proceed. Ghani himself expressed concerns the US could seek to rush such a deal. Despite the progress, regular attacks by the Taliban will continue and there is a risk that the local Islamic State affiliate could seek to take advantage of any steps towards reconciliation.

Europe: Latest set of key Brexit votes imminent

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; trade disruption

British MPs are due to vote in the latest set of make-or-break Brexit votes, including plans pushed by Labour MP Yvette Cooper that would delay Brexit if no-deal looks likely. Voting on the major amendments is due to begin on 29 January Cooper’s amendment is seen as likely to pass, and some ministers said they may resign from Prime Minister Theresa May’s government if she whips votes against it. Backbench Conservative MP Dominic Grieve has also put forward an amendment that would make the next steps on Brexit essentially the prerogative of parliament, not the government. It is possible that May will resign in the coming days, as political developments could be rapid and the associated whiplash may be fierce. There is also a possibility that all major amendments fail, which could plunge Britain deeper into turmoil. May has insisted on resuming talks with the European Union over the backstop, despite Brussels having repeatedly ruled this out.

MENA: European Commission adds Saudi Arabia to draft ‘terrorism financing’ list

Sectors: all
Key Risks: sanctions

The European Commission added Saudi Arabia to a draft list of countries that pose a threat to the bloc due to lax security controls against terrorist financing and money laundering. The EU’s draft list comprises 23 countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea, but is being updated at a time of increased scrutiny of Riyadh’s practices. The Commission accuses Riyadh of ‘strategic deficiencies’ in efforts to combat dirty money. The decision needs to be ratified by EU nations before the draft can be approved next week. The addition will necessitate enhanced checks, making business with the Kingdom more onerous, but is unlikely to dampen investor appetite for projects such as the impending Aramco debt issuance.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Nigeria’s opposition PDP suspends campaign in protest of Chief Justice’s suspension

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; civil unrest

Nigeria’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), suspended campaigning for the 16 February elections to protest President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to suspend Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, Nigeria’s most senior judge. On 12 January the Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Tribunal announced Onnoghen would face trial over alleged breaches of asset-declaration rules. The PDP and its presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar contend that the allegations are politically motivated. Buhari, who has been campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, insists he is merely following the Court of Conduct Tribunal’s recommendations. Although an appeals court ordered Onnoghen’s trial be suspended, Buhari proceeded to install his deputy Tanko Muhammad as interim Chief Justice. As head of Nigeria’s Supreme Court, the Chief Justice has the ultimate say in electoral disputes. If Onnoghen’s suspension is upheld, there is a heightened risk of a disputed outcome following February’s vote.