Americas:  Fresh US sanctions to hamper government-opposition talks in Venezuela

Sectors: all
Key Risks: sanctions risk; political stability

In Venezuela, on 16 December President Nicolas Maduro criticised the US Congress’ approval of a new sanctions law prohibiting US federal agencies from doing business with any company that supports Maduro’s government. Maduro described the new restrictions as “an aggression” that threatened the prospect of another round of negotiations between his government and the opposition. The official talks – a condition for the US Treasury Department’s recent easing of oil sanctions on the country – were resumed on 26 November. The opposition had previously accused Maduro of delaying the negotiations on the political agenda and Maduro’s son – also a government official – had stated that the talks were unlikely to continue in 2022. On 30 November Maduro warned that free elections would only take place should all sanctions be lifted. Any meaningful progress during the talks – and even their continuation – looks increasingly unlikely.

Asia Pacific: Coalition government likely following Fiji’s inconclusive election

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; economic risks

In Fiji, the 14 December general elections resulted in the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) becoming kingmaker as polls returned a hung parliament. Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s FijiFirst Party and opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka’s newly established People’s Alliance along with its coalition partner National Federation Party both secured 25 seats – three short of a governing majority. Despite SODELPA’s record loss of 18 seats, the support of its remaining three seats will likely allow the party to extract significant political concessions from either Bainimarama and Rabuka. However, with relations still acrimonious between SODELPA and Rabuka – its former leader – and many of its policies diametrically opposed to Bainimarama’s, a coalition with either is likely to be tenuous. Prolonged and fraught coalition negotiations are expected to add to already heightened political tensions.

Eurasia: Nagorno-Karabakh blockade continues; Russia’s President Putin to visit Belarus

Sectors: all
Key risks: war on land

On 19 December Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reported that the Lachin corridor – the only road in and out of Nagorno-Karabakh – remained blocked for the eighth consecutive day, causing food and medical supplies shortages. Supposed Azerbaijani environmental activists blocked the road on 12 December, demanding permission from Azerbaijani authorities to inspect gold mines in the area. However, independent media reported that the activists had ties to the government in Baku. Should the blockade continue, the risk of escalation will increase. Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to travel to Belarus on 19 December to meet with his counterpart Alexander Lukashenko. The visit will come amid concerns in Kyiv over a new Russian offensive to start in early-2023. Ukraine’s military authorities believe that the two will discuss Minsk’s further involvement in the invasion. 

Europe: Slovakia heading to uncertain snap elections

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability

In Slovakia, on 15 December Prime Minister Eduard Heger’s coalition government lost a no-confidence vote in parliament. The motion was called by a former coalition partner – the Freedom of Solidarity party (SaS) – which quit the coalition in September over disagreements with Igor Matovic, the leader of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (Olano) party and Minister of Finance. On 16 December President Zuzana Caputova dismissed the government and asked for it to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government can be formed. Caputova added that snap elections were the preferred option and asked lawmakers to take all necessary steps by end-January to prepare for them. This period of political instability comes as lawmakers seek to approve the 2023 budget by end-December. Political instability and associated economic risks will remain heightened until a new government is formed.

MENA: Unrest to continue following historically low turnout in controversial Tunisian elections 

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability; civil unrest; political violence

In Tunisia, on 17 December the first round of parliamentary elections was held amid nationwide protests and widespread calls to boycott the polls. Only 8.8 per cent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots in the first elections since President Kais Saied’s dissolution of Parliament in 2021 and subsequent consolidation of constitutional power in the hands of the executive. In the run-up to the vote, most political parties and some trade unions announced their intention to boycott the elections, denounced Saied’s government as illegitimate and called for his resignation. The political crisis is compounded by severe economic challenges which the government has been unable to resolve. Increased civil unrest is highly likely ahead of the second round of voting to be held on 20 January. 

Sub-Saharan Africa: South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa re-elected as ANC leader  

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability; civil unrest

In South Africa, on 19 December President Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected as leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party amid the ongoing ‘Farmgate’ scandal. On 16 December protesters disrupted Ramaphosa’s speech during the ANC conference in Johannesburg and called for Ramaphosa’s resignation from the leadership race against former health minister Zweli Mkhize – an ally to former president Jacob Zuma’s faction within the ANC who resigned in 2021 after graft allegations. Ramaphosa is expected to lead the ANC into elections in 2024, given that on 13 December parliamentary members voted against impeachment proceedings, suggesting that political stability and policy continuity were favoured over an investigation into the ‘Farmgate’ affair. The risk of civil unrest will remain heightened  in the near to medium term as President Ramaphosa’s public support is expected to continue to wane.