Americas: Rare corruption probe suggests internal power struggle within Venezuela’s PSUV party
Key Risks: political stability; business risk
In Venezuela, on 25 March the Attorney General announced that a total of 21 people – including 10 officials and 11 businesspeople – had been arrested since a rare and ongoing government-led corruption probe began in October 2022, adding that a further 11 arrest warrants had also been issued. The 21 detainees face accusations of appropriation of public assets, money laundering, influence peddling and criminal association. The investigation is focused on state-owned oil firm PDVSA, a government entity supervising crypto currency operations and the judiciary. Tareck El Aissami – who was one of President Nicolas Maduro’s closest associates – unexpectedly announced his resignation as oil minister on 20 March amid the probe. Maduro’s crackdown on alleged graft is likely linked to efforts to ensure there is no dissent within the ruling PSUV party nor attempts to dispute Maduro’s leadership.
Asia Pacific: Former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou in landmark visit to mainland China
Key Risks: trade friction; accidental conflict
In China, on 27 March former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou landed in Shanghai for a historic visit – marking the first time a former or serving leader of the self-ruling island has visited the mainland since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. While the visit will focus on Ma’s personal history and cross-Strait cultural exchanges, it comes amid heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei and at an inopportune time for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen – who oversaw the loss of yet another diplomatic ally in Honduras on 25 March and is scheduled to embark on a highly anticipated visit to the US, Guatemala and Belize on 29 March. Recent months have also seen increased interactions between the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) – of whom Ma is a senior member – and mainland officials, further demonstrating the salience of cross-Strait relations ahead of the January 2024 Taiwanese presidential election.
Eurasia: Tensions soar as Baku moves to take control of route into Nagorno-Karabakh
Key risks: war on land
In Azerbaijan, on 25 March the Ministry of Defence announced it had taken measures to cut off a dirt road used to bypass the Lachin corridor – the only land transport route connecting Armenia to the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) region. In a rare move, Russian peacekeepers accused Baku of violating a ceasefire brokered by Moscow by crossing the line of contact into NK. The Lachin corridor has been blockaded by alleged Azerbaijani activists since December 2022. A deadly clash broke out between Karabakh and Azerbaijani forces on 5 March as Karabakh officials allegedly attempted to bypass the corridor, with Baku accusing Karabakh forces of using the route to smuggle weapons. Baku is determined to establish a checkpoint on the Lachin corridor and tensions in the region have soared in the past month. Further clashes and ceasefire violations are likely as Baku moves to solidify its control over the corridor.
Europe: Bulgaria, Finland and Montenegro to hold elections on 2 April
Key Risks: political stability
In Bulgaria and Finland, citizens will go to the polls on 2 April to elect a new parliament. On the same day, the citizens of Montenegro will choose their president in a second round vote. In Bulgaria, locals will vote in the fifth election in less than two years. Previous elections failed to produce a stable government and there is a high risk that the fifth attempt will produce another fragmented coalition. In Finland, the Social Democratic party of Prime Minister Sanna Marin, the centre-right National Coalition Party (EEP) and the nationalist Finns Party will compete in a likely very tight election, with polls suggesting that any of these could win. In Montenegro, current President Milo Dukanovic will face former economy minister Jakov Milatovic. Although Dukanovic won the first round on 19 March, he could still be defeated as he will likely struggle to make significant gains in the runoff vote.
MENA: Israeli PM weighs backing down on judicial reforms
Key Risks: civil unrest; political violence; political stability
In Israel, on 26 March spontaneous demonstrations erupted across the country in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dismissal of Defence Minister Yoav Gallant – who had urged Netanyahu to halt controversial judicial reforms. The government is under immense pressure from political opponents and from unprecedented popular opposition. Reports from Likud officials indicate that Netanyahu is considering pausing the reforms in the coming days. However, Netanyahu is also under pressure from his religious nationalist coalition partners – ardent supporters of the reforms – who have reportedly urged him not to back down. Pro-reforms demonstrations are scheduled to take place on 27 March in Jerusalem. Netanyahu will be hoping for a significant turnout to allow the government to push through with its plans and to reassure the religious nationalist bloc of his commitment to a shared policy agenda. Protests and increasingly disruptive strikes are set to continue.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Tshisekedi reshuffles cabinet ahead of the DRC’s December general election
Key Risks: political stability
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on 23 March President Felix Tshisekedi announced sweeping changes to his 57-member cabinet. Although most key portfolios – such as finance, energy and mines – were unaffected, Tshisekedi made several notable modifications. He appointed former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba – who served over 10 years in prison for war crimes – as Minister of Defence. Tshisekedi also appointed his former chief of staff Vital Kamerhe as Minister of National Economy as well as several influential political figures who enjoy support in large constituencies to key positions – although many of the new appointees lack expertise in their new ministries. The move was largely done to gain support in those constituencies and to strengthen coalitions ahead of the general election scheduled for December. However, a bloated cabinet threatens to complicate policy making and implementation in the medium to long term.