Americas: President Bukele to consolidate power in 28 February legislative, municipal elections
Key Risks: political stability; unrest; election-related violence
In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele’s centre-right New Ideas party is expected to secure a major win in the 28 February legislative and municipal elections which are highly likely to consolidate Bukele’s political control of the country. Recent polls suggest that New Ideas leads with around 60 per cent of support in the vote to elect the 84 members of the Legislative Assembly (LA) and local officials in 262 municipalities. Bukele, who won the presidency in 2019 as an outsider, appears on track to obtain a majority in the opposition-controlled LA as the conservative ARENA and the leftist FMLN parties, which currently control around 70 per cent of LA and local seats, are expected to suffer major losses. Such takeover would enable Bukele to easily advance his political agenda, which has raised concerns over an increasing autocratic drive. There is a risk of localised election-related violence.
Asia Pacific: MILF insurgents to be granted amnesty in the Philippines
Key Risks: insurgency
In the Philippines, at least 1,000 members of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an Islamic insurgency group based in Mindanao, would be granted amnesty once President Rodrigo Duterte’s programme is approved by Congress. Thousands of Islamic and communist insurgents in the southern provinces could apply for amnesty should they agree to surrender their weapons. The announcement came as the representatives of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslism Mindanao, led by leaders of MILF, seek to extend the transition period which ends on 30 June 2022 to fully implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), forged between the government and the MILF after 17 years of negotiations, to 2025. One of the CAB’s provisions is the process to demobilise MILF combatants which the amnesty programme should help to expedite. The programme also applies to former insurgents from the New People’s Army.
Eurasia: EU to agree Navalny sanctions; Putin and Lukashenko to discuss Belarus
Key Risks: sanctions
Following the recent announcement of limited US sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project – which are unlikely to disrupt construction – EU foreign ministers meeting on 22 February are likely to agree on additional sanctions after the imprisonment of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Associates of the Kremlin critic reportedly met select EU foreign ministers and ambassadors in advance of the meeting. Sanctions may be implemented via a novel ‘Magnitsky-style’ human rights mechanism – targeting individuals with asset freezes and travel bans – and should be in place before a 25 March meeting of EU leaders. Also on 22 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko are likely to discuss the ongoing opposition movement in Belarus at a meeting in Sochi, in advance of a new round of protests set to begin on Freedom Day, 25 March.
Europe: Renewed confidence in Italy’s government; Netherlands curfew dilemma; Kosovo’s government formation
Key Risks: political stability; civil unrest
In Italy, strong demand for a 16 February bond sale indicated confidence in the new Mario Draghi-led government to oversee the country’s economic recovery and optimism on deploying funding from the EU to accelerate structural reforms. However, long term political stability risks remain as the diverse six-party coalition is likely to clash over spending plans. In the Netherlands, lawmakers upheld the national curfew to continue until early March despite a court order to lift it the previous week. The move risks a repeat of previous civil unrest as a result, with the government’s response crucial as the country heads to a general election on 17 March. In Kosovo, government formation talks continue as election winner anti-establishment Vetevendosje’s leader Albin Kurti spoke out in favour of unification with Albania. Such comments are likely to further aggravate lukewarm relations with neighbouring Serbia.
MENA: IAEA to halt short notice nuclear inspections in Iran as proxy attacks escalate in Iraq
Key Risks: terrorism; business disruption; sanctions
From 23 February the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will halt inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites under the ‘Additional Protocol’ but will conduct monitoring activities for up to three months, by which time, Tehran has warned, the US must lift sanctions. This comes after the IAEA found uranium particles on 19 February at two supposedly decommissioned sites. The IAEA is preparing to rebuke Tehran on nuclear breaches which will complicate negotiations between Iran and the US as both seek to find a way to re-enter the nuclear deal without being the first to concede. Concurrently, attacks by Shi’ah militia groups aligned with Iran are escalating the severity of their attacks on US military positions in Iraq which they have threatened to continue until the US leaves. At some point Washington must respond to these attacks.
Sub-Saharan Africa: TPLF sets out preconditions for peace talks with Ethiopian government
Key Risks: political violence; political instability
In Ethiopia, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) outlined eight preconditions for commencing peace talks with the federal government. Key demands include the withdrawal of Eritrean forces, international mediation and for the interim Tigrayan administration to be replaced by officials that were elected in a regional vote in September 2020. Addis Ababa and Asmara have denied reports that Eritrean troops are active in Ethiopia, despite several claims that Eritrean forces have exacerbated violence in Tigray. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory against the TPLF on 28 November, but significant pockets of armed resistance remain. The government refused to negotiate with the TPLF throughout November 2020. Several TPLF leaders remain in hiding and a number of former officials have been captured or killed by federal forces. Peace talks could reduce the risk of military confrontation in the region but remain uncertain.