Ones to Watch, 11 February 2019

Americas: Fresh wave of violent protests amid state of economic emergency hits Haiti

Sectors: all
Key Risks: civil unrest; political instability; business disruption

In Haiti, waves of violent anti-government protests are expected to continue. At least four people have been killed since 7 February, when protests demanding President Jovenel Moise step down reignited and turned violent in the capital Port-au-Prince and other main urban centres. On 10 February protests continued for the fourth consecutive day. The unrest is taking place amid a deepening economic crisis and unfolding corruption probes. The risk of further violent outbreaks and an associated heavy-handed police response remains high. On 5 February Moise declared a state of economic emergency to be in place until 30 September. The announcement was made 48 hours ahead of the planned anti-government protests, which have been ongoing intermittently since August 2018. Further disruptive unrest, violent clashes, rioting and looting will remain likely over the coming weeks as political instability risks continuing to increase.

Asia-Pacific: Military coup rumours in Thailand as Princess is barred from politics

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; civil unrest; military coup

In Thailand, rumours of an impending coup by the military against generals who seized power in 2014 were vehemently denied by Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha. The growing divide in the military was likely aggravated by Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya’s attempt to run in the long-awaited general elections on 24 March as the prime ministerial candidate of an anti-junta party. The Princess announced her candidacy on 8 February, aligning herself with the powerful Shinawatra clan, a plot twist in Thailand’s election saga that seriously threatened the ruling junta’s chances of electoral victory. However, her brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn criticised the move and on 11 February the royally-appointed Election Commission formally barred Princess Ubolratana’s prime ministerial bid. The developments do not bode well for democracy despite earlier hopes that the 24 March vote would remove the junta from power.

Eurasia: US spokesperson counters reports of Afghan drawdown

Sectors: all
Key Risks: conflict; terrorism; civil war

Colonel David Butler, a spokesperson for the US mission in Afghanistan, said on 8 February that there were no plans to reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan, even if an agreement was reached on a long-term ceasefire or peace deal with the Taliban. Two weeks prior it was reported that the US and Taliban had a ‘framework’ agreement in place. The Taliban have long demanded all foreign troops withdraw. Butler rebutted reports that US President Donald Trump wanted to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan in half. This past week AKE also confirmed that China and Tajikistan had reached an agreement for the former to construct military checkpoints on the Afghan-Tajik border, something the authorities had been wont to admit and which raises questions over recent statements from Russia that it too wanted to increase its military deployments in Tajikistan.

Europe: Catalan issue returns to fore; UK continues crackdown on HNW suspect money

Sectors: all
Key Risks: protests; asset forfeiture

On 10 February 45,000 people protested at the Colon Square in central Madrid to denounce the Spanish Socialist minority government’s plans to appoint an intermediary for talks with Catalan independence leaders. While Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez proposed the talks, there has been little progress. The demonstrations may trigger renewed protests in kind in Catalonia. The issue is increasingly likely to play a dominant role in the next elections, which are due by July 2020 but could be called at any moment given the minority government. Meanwhile Britain again faces a series of key Brexit votes in parliament despite the lack of any major progress in talks. However, the authorities have escalated their crackdown on high net-worth money, ordering that some GBP500,000 be seized from the son of an ex-prime minister of Moldova this week. Further such crackdowns should be expected.

MENA: Final escalation against Islamic State; US withdrawal from Syria confirmed in weeks

Sectors: all
Key Risks: sanctions

A US military official announced that the US is just weeks away from starting the withdrawal of troops from Syria and that the US military has already started moving equipment from the region. The announcement comes as US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) evacuated residents before beginning their final assault on 9 February to oust Islamic State (IS) from its last enclave in Baghuz, eastern Syria, and have reportedly gained ground since the assault started. However, the issue of the safety of Kurdish US allies remains. The US military sent further reinforcements to the Iraqi border region of al-Tanf, given the likelihood of the group’s to attempt infiltration into Iraq. Despite the likelihood of success in this final onslaught, IS have shown resilience in effectively reconstituting into an insurgency, as it has in Iraq.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Suspension of Nigeria’s chief justice raises risk of election-related unrest

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political violence; political instability

On 16 February Nigeria goes to the polls in what is expected to be a hotly contested general election. Whilst elections in 2015 saw a peaceful transfer of power, the likelihood of a contested electoral outcome has been raised substantially following the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen on corruption charges in January. As head of Nigeria’s highest court, the chief justice has a vital say in deciding electoral disputes. Onnoghen’s upcoming trial on 13 February has therefore heightened fears of possible electoral interference. Although President Muhammadu Buhari has installed Tanko Muhammad as interim Chief Justice, Muhammad has been accused of constitutional violations, raising the possibility of a new appointment ahead of the vote. The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the controversy has elevated the risk of violence and unrest over the next two weeks.