Americas: Truckers to begin indefinite strike in Brazil, fears of 2018 repeat loom
Sectors: all, road cargo transport
Key Risks: strikes; business disruption; overland travel disruption
In Brazil, independent truckers are set to begin an indefinite strike on 1 February raising fears of a repeat of the 11-day May 2018 stoppage which paralysed the economy. The 2018 strike, which also protested high fuel prices, led to the resignation of state-owned oil firm Petrobras’s CEO and to government intervention in the firm’s pricing policy. Although some trucker entities have stated that support for the fresh nationwide strike appears to be weaker than in 2018, others have argued that it could lead to similar and even more disruption than that observed almost three years ago. President Jair Bolsonaro has urged those willing to strike not to do so, while Petrobras CEO Roberto Castello Branco has stressed that the firm’s import-parity pricing is not the cause of the truckers’ grievances. Disruption and controversy over the matter should be expected.
Asia Pacific: Myanmar’s military takes power in coup, Aung San Suu Kyi detained
Key Risks: coup d’etat; political instability
In Myanmar, the armed forces have taken power in a coup, abruptly interrupting the fragile democratic transition that began in 2010. The coup followed weeks of tensions between the civilian government and the military and military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party over the November election outcome, with senior military officials accusing the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) of election fraud. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi along with other senior NLD political figures were detained, while the military announced a one-year state of emergency. The coup has led to significant disruption in major cities as internet connections and mobile services were affected. All banks across the country were also closed, citing poor internet connection. It remains unclear when services will return. Protests and global condemnations are expected to intensify in the coming days.
Eurasia: Protests to continue in Russia; US remains dominant force in Afghanistan
Key Risks: sanctions; political stability; violent unrest; political violence; war
In Russia, a second weekend of protests brought thousands of people to the streets across urban centres and more EU and US condemnation over the large number of detentions and the security services’ use of force. While State Duma elections scheduled for September will further stoke unrest, demonstrations are still unlikely to bring about any significant political shift. The biggest casualty, other than opposition activist Alexei Navalny, whose imprisonment looks increasingly likely, may be the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. On 1 February France reiterated its desire for Germany to halt it. Meanwhile, though unnamed NATO officials were reported as saying that international forces deployed in Afghanistan would remain in theatre beyond May 2021, developments in the country – including whether international forces would remain – are more likely to be shaped by the ongoing US strategy review.
Europe: EU vaccine supply and anti-lockdown protests; Italian government talks
Key Risks: political stability
EU Commission President Ursula von de Leyen announced an agreement with AstraZeneca of a 9 million increase in COVID-19 vaccines for the EU following tensions over expected shortages. On 30 January the EU reversed a decision to trigger an emergency provision in the Brexit deal to control COVID-19 vaccine exports from the EU after criticism. 40 million doses are expected for distribution across the EU in Q1 2021. In Italy, former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi has been touted as a future prime minister following Giuseppe Conte’s resignation from the position the previous week. President Sergio Mattarella has organised government formation talks for the coming days. In Hungary, Belgium and Hungary anti-lockdown demonstrations were held on the weekend, with most largely driven by far-right groups. Similar low-level unrest is likely in the coming weeks.
MENA: More countries to block weapons sales to KSA, UAE; US-Iran nuclear progress at impasse
Key Risks: political instability; violent unrest
Italy became the second country to review weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE on 29 January following a halt by the US’s new Biden administration until a further review. This cements a freeze imposed by Rome in July 2019. These freezes raise the potential for more countries to suspend or block sales due to the potential for weapons sold to the allies being used in the war in Yemen and as concerns escalate over human rights abuses. Pressure is growing in the UK to review sales. Meanwhile, Iran rejected Biden’s offer to lift sanctions if Iran first came back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal or JCPOA. While the US is unlikely to concede, this stance raises risks of an impasse. Nuclear negotiations will influence Iran’s upcoming presidential elections.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Djibouti’s opposition to boycott upcoming April elections, calls for protests
Key Risks: violent unrest; political instability
In Djibouti, opposition parties the Union for National Salvation, Radde and Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development announced a boycott of the April general elections and called on their supporters to mobilise against the lack of electoral transparency. None of the parties will file a challenger to President Ismail Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999, who recently announced his candidacy for a fifth term. A constitutional change in 2010 allowed Guelleh to stand for a third term in 2011 and he won another in 2016. The opposition has repeatedly boycotted elections, which are frequently accompanied by protests, alleging they are neither free nor fair. Protests should be expected but are likely to be suppressed by the security forces. Given the boycott and the electoral commission’s lack of independence, Guelleh’s re-election is all but guaranteed.