Americas: Opposition against Venezuela’s Maduro set to further weaken
Key Risks: political instability; economic risks; civil unrest
In Venezuela, on 5 December Foreign Minister of the US-backed interim government Julio Borges announced his resignation in another blow to President Nicolas Maduro’s opposition, signalling growing divisions within the latter. Borges, exiled in Colombia, stated that the interim government led by Juan Guaido no longer served its purpose and should only be responsible for managing foreign-based state-owned assets. The announcement came a day after hundreds protested the disqualification of opposition candidate Freddy Superlano in Barinas, Barinas state. Protesters condemned the Supreme Court’s recent decision to order a 9 January rerun of Barinas state’s gubernatorial elections after disqualifying Superlano due to ‘administrative investigations’. The opposition secured only three out of 23 governorships in the controversial 21 November regional and local elections. Although further unrest is expected, internal divisions will further weaken Guaido and the opposition’s stance against Maduro.
Asia Pacific: New Caledonia set to host final independence referendum on 12 December
Key Risks: political instability; civil unrest
In New Caledonia, the final independence referendum is scheduled for 12 December despite calls from pro-independence leaders to delay the vote due to the impact of COVID-19. The groups also indicated that they would boycott and not recognise the result should the vote not be delayed. The decision by the indigenous community could threaten the fragile peace which could potentially see a return of political turmoil and violent unrest as witnessed in the 1980s. Hundreds of voters have filed a request at France’s highest administrative court seeking to postpone the referendum as pro-independence parties have unsuccessfully lobbied Paris to postpone the vote. With the likely abstention from pro-independence groups, the legitimacy of the electoral outcome is set to be undermined, which in turn would likely rekindle deep ethnic tensions between loyalists and local indigenous. Violence in the lead-up to and after the vote cannot be ruled out.
Eurasia: US President Biden, Russian President Putin to hold talks on 7 December
Key risks: war on land
US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced plans to hold a video call on 7 December amid increasing tensions over the Russian military build-up near Russia’s border with Ukraine. The White House stated that the two would discuss a range of issues, including strategic nuclear weapons and cyberattacks. President Biden is also expected to express his concerns over Russian military activities near the border with Ukraine. The video call comes after a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during which the two parties confirmed their colliding views. While Washington is concerned about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moscow regards NATO’s eastward expansion as a major security threat. The Biden-Putin video call is unlikely to bring a significant breakthrough, whilst tensions will remain high in the upcoming weeks.
Europe: Olaf Scholz set to be appointed German chancellor
Key Risks: economy; business; trade
In Germany, Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) Olaf Scholz is expected to be appointed chancellor and leader of the new coalition government on 8 December. The SPD, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party have all approved of the so-called traffic light coalition. All that remains is for the respective parties to sign the coalition deal, enabling Scholz to formally seek election as chancellor in the Bundestag. In addition to the chancellery, the SPD will hold the defence, health and home affairs ministries. FDP leader Christian Linder will become the new finance minister. The Greens’ co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck are set to become foreign minister and economics and climate minister, respectively. Among other policies, the incoming government plans to raise the minimum wage to EUR12 per hour and reapply the so-called ‘debt brake’ in 2023.
MENA: Iraq’s electoral commission confirms parliamentary election results; rejections persist
Key Risks: political instability; civil unrest
In Iraq, on 30 November the electoral commission confirmed the results of the 10 October parliamentary elections. Several pro-Iranian factions – including Fatah Alliance – have objected to the results and demanded a manual vote recount. Fatah Alliance performed poorly in the elections, winning only 17 seats. This prompted the Hashd al-Sha’bi Shi’ah militia (PMF) – Fatah’s political wing – and their supporters to protest the results, deeming them fraudulent. On 2 December Shi’ah cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – the leader of the Sadrist Movement which won the most seats in the elections – met with Hadi al-A’miri, leader of Fatah, to reach a deal on government formation. No agreement has been reported and the Federal Supreme Court has yet to certify the election results. Until then, government formation cannot commence and the Iraqi political and security environment will remain highly uncertain.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Militant attacks in Benin demonstrate growing threat to coastal West Africa
Key Risks: political violence
In Benin, two soldiers were killed on 1 December when gunmen attacked a security post near the Burkina Faso border in Atakora department just one day after a patrol was ambushed in Alibori department. Al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin is suspected to be responsible. The incidents occurred after Togolese security forces announced they had repelled a similar cross-border attack on 9 November. The incidents, which followed several attacks in northern Cote d’Ivoire, demonstrate the growing risk of armed violence in coastal West Africa amid a southwards spread of militant activity from the Sahel. Despite increased security efforts, it is uncertain whether the three states’ current, militarised approaches to counter-terrorism can prevent the worsening insecurity of their under-developed, disenfranchised and porous border areas. Absent significant policy changes, regional security will further deteriorate.