Ones to Watch, 11 March 2019

Americas: Nicaraguan opposition threatens to end dialogue absent government concessions

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

In Nicaragua, progress in the recently resumed negotiations between the government and the opposition will remain elusive unless President Daniel Ortega shows signs of commitment to the opposition’s demands. On 10 March the opposition group Civic Alliance stated that talks will not continue unless meaningful concessions including freeing political prisoners are made. Ortega has so far released over 100 prisoners since dialogue efforts restarted on 27 February. Over 700 reportedly remain jailed. The government has pledged to release more prisoners and implement electoral reforms, but rejected the opposition’s key demand for snap elections, stating that they will take place as scheduled in 2021. It also called for the international community to suspend all sanctions, most notably 2018 US-imposed sanctions against Nicaraguan officials, including against Vice President Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife. Unrest could reignite should the dialogue collapse.

Asia-Pacific: Bombs in Thailand’s not so deep south highlight risk of violence ahead of elections

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political violence; security force crackdown

Multiple bombs exploded in Thailand’s southern provinces of Satun and Phattalung in 9 and 10 March, prompting fears that the insurgent groups are operating outside their traditional strongholds of Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla. The motive for the bombings remains undetermined, with the insurgency in the ‘Deep South’, political conflicts and recent crackdowns on human and drug trafficking all potential factors. Insurgency-related violence has not impacted Satun or Phattalung for years. However, a motorcycle used to deliver one of the bombs was reportedly stolen from Songkhla province, where insurgents are active. The attacks may also be part of an effort to discredit the government ahead of the highly contentious 24 March election. Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha has ordered security to be stepped up at government offices, tourist attractions and business centres.

Eurasia: Xinjiang may become political issue in Kazakhstan; Russian protests over internet rights  

Sectors: all
Key Risks: civil unrest; police crackdown

On 10 March, Kazakh police arrested Serikzhan Bilash, who heads the Volunteers of the Fatherland group that has highlighted the abuse of Muslims in neighbouring China’s Xinjiang region. Bilash’s group has organised a series of events to highlight China’s abuses in Xinjiang. His wife said she was concerned Astana could extradite him to China. Developments in the case could prompt some unrest. In 2016 anti-Chinese protests swept Kazakhstan, forcing the government into a unprecedented about-face regarding its plans to allow agricultural land to be sldl to foreigners. Also on 10 March, some 15,000 people protested in Moscow over Russia’s plans to curtail internet access, a move that risk prompting further such demonstrations, although unrest is unlikely. Meanwhile 9 March saw a series of clashes between Ukrainian police and far-right demonstrators, which will become more frequent ahead of the 31 March presidential elections.

Europe: Brexit to dominate coming week

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability; trade disruption

The United Kingdom’s fraught effort to negotiate an agreement to exit the European Union will dominate the week’s events. Over the weekend, numerous Conservative MPs told the Times of London that Prime Minister Theresa May could resign in the coming week as her EU Withdrawal Agreement looks set to be defeated again in parliament on 12 March. A vote on 13 March is all-but-sure to see MPs rule out a no-deal Brexit and could significantly affect May’s government if she demands members vote in favour of a no-deal Brexit. A vote on 14 March will likely see Parliament request an extension of the Brexit process, though this is by no means guaranteed, and it remains unclear on what terms Brussels would be willing to do so.

MENA: Algeria protests largest in 30 years; escalation to violence still possible

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability; political violence

Algeria witnessed its largest protests in 28 years on 8 March as thousands demonstrated in Algiers in challenge to ailing President Abdulaziz Bouteflika running for a fifth term. Protesters were met with tear gas but protests remained largely peaceful as they continued for a 17th day on 10 March, when Bouteflika returned from medical treatment in Switzerland. Authorities said they would close universities, an apparent attempt to diffuse the protests in which thousands of students and teachers have participated. Bouteflika’s bid for re-election exacerbated frustrations in an already discontent populace but those striking and demonstrating repeatedly express their desire for a peaceful demonstration. Bouteflika and the military chief both warned against any violence and stated their preparedness for such. Protests will likely continue, with an escalation in fervour in advance of the 19 April elections.

Guinea-Bissau: Peaceful parliamentary elections in Guinea-Bissau raise hope of stabilisation

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability

Regional observers deemed Guinea-Bissau’s 10 March parliamentary election largely credible and peaceful. The vote is seen as a crucial step toward full implementation of the Conakry Agreement, which is meant to end a standoff that has pitted President Jose Mario Vaz against his African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Vaz fell out with his former party allies following his removal of PAIGC leader Domingos Pereira as Prime Minister in 2015, kicking off a battle for control of the party and plunging the country into another deep political crisis. Guinea-Bissau has a history of instability, driven in part by the country’s role as an international drug trafficking hub. Although the successful election improves the prospects for political stabilisation, the military and political elites’ implication in organised crime will continue to be a source of volatility.