Americas: Brazil’s capital enters two-week lockdown, President Bolsonaro threatens aid cuts
Key Risks: business and economic risks
In Brazil, on 27 February the capital Brasilia entered a lockdown for all but essential services until 15 March to reduce the spread of COVID-19 currently overwhelming hospitals to a near breaking point. Brasilia Governor Ibaneis Rocha decreed the lockdown including the total closure of bars, restaurants, shopping malls and schools and the banning of all gatherings initially for two weeks. Eight other states have adopted curfews over the past week as the intensive care capacity in 17 capitals of the country’s 26 states reached the most critical levels ever. Local health authorities said that 85 per cent of hospital beds were occupied in Brasilia. President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly refused to impose a nationwide lockdown, criticised the move and threatened to cut off federal emergency pandemic assistance to states resorting to such measures. Further state-mandated restrictions should be expected.
Asia Pacific: Malaysia’s PM regains parliamentary majority; 18 casualties recorded in Myanmar
Key Risks: political instability; civil unrest
In Malaysia, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin restored parliamentary majority after two opposition lawmakers crossed the aisle to join the Perikatan Nasional coalition government, effectively boosting the premier’s support to 111 seats in the 222-seats parliament. Two seats are vacant in the constituencies of Perak and Sabah. The defection came after King Sultan Ahmed Shah declared that parliament can convene during the state of emergency, paving the way for the opposition to table a fresh no-confidence vote against the premier. Elsewhere in Asia, at least 18 people were killed and more than 30 were injured as violence broke out across Myanmar’s major cities. The crackdown marked the bloodiest episode of nationwide protests against the 1 February coup. Furthermore, the National League for Democracy announced plans to establish an interim government that would rival the military junta.
Eurasia: Protests and political crisis in Armenia and Georgia
Key Risks: political stability; civil unrest
In Armenia, ongoing political turmoil escalated on 1 March when anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan broke into a government building in the capital Yerevan. While Pashinyan’s My Step coalition enjoys a parliamentary majority and the opposition protests have limited public support, tensions between the premier, the president and the military are likely to persist. Pashinyan’s political survival until the next parliamentary elections is far from guaranteed. A political crisis is likely in any event. In neighbouring Georgia, protesters set tents outside the parliament building, continuing to push demands for snap elections following the re-arrest of United National Movement leader Nika Melia. Further rallies are scheduled for 2 and 5 March. The ruling Georgian Dream party is unlikely to compromise with protesters and any further external mediation is unlikely to resolve underlying systemic issues.
Europe: Former Italian PM to lead M5S relaunch; EU’s vaccine supply problems to continue
Key Risks: political stability; business and economic risks
In Italy, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte will lead the relaunch for the Five State Movement M5S, the largest party in government, following his resignation as prime minister a month ago. Conte will aim to reverse M5S’s declining poll ratings. The move is the first step ahead of general elections due to be held by June 2023, which could see stability amongst the six-party government begin to fray. In the EU the slow pace of the vaccine rollout is leading some countries to consider Russia’s Sputnik V to boost supply. In the Czech Republic, the government is considering ordering Sputnik V before EU approval as it considers reimposing the strictest level of lockdown as cases of new COVID-19 variants surge. Hungary is the only EU member using the Russian vaccine so far. Austria has also voiced interest in it.
MENA: White House to clarify lack of repercussions for Saudi crown prince after Khashoggi report
Sectors: oil & gas
Key Risks: political risks; sanctions
The US’s White House is expected to clarify imminently the decision not to impose punitive measures on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MbS) after a US intelligence report released on 26 February determined that he authorised the October 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by a ‘hit squad’ closely linked to the crown prince. Washington instead implemented a ‘Khashoggi Ban’ against 76 Saudi nationals, including those close to MbS. The new ban bars those connected to Khashoggi’s killing or implicated in targeting dissidents abroad from obtaining a US visa. Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter and the largest purchaser of US arms. Meaningful sanctions against the crown prince, the country’s de facto ruler, would be extremely difficult to enact without repercussions. Nevertheless, further calls for sanctions are likely.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Journalist’s home attacked during post-election violence in Niamey, Niger
Key Risks: civil unrest; political violence
In Niger, reports emerged that the residence of Moussa Kaka, a reporter for Radio France International, was attacked and burned following violent post-election unrest in the capital Niamey on 25 February. Kaka, who was unharmed during the attack, was likely targeted for his journalism, having received several death threats since January. At least three people have been killed and over 450 arrested in protests in Niamey after ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum won the presidential election amid widespread claims of fraud. Supporters of opposition candidate Mahamane Ousmane have engaged in clashes with security forces since 24 February after he declared victory in the presidential runoff. The electoral commission awarded Ousmane 44.25 per cent of the vote, although he claims to have received 50.3 per cent. There is a risk of further violent clashes as the government suppresses political dissent.