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Political Risk Around the World in Third Quarter 2015

by Dr. Maha Hosain Aziz* for the Huffingtonpost–

Global issues like the spread of ISIS and Middle East turmoil will naturally continue to plague us this quarter. These are factors that may hinder stability in the international system – that’s global political risk in a nutshell. But what can we expect of domestic political risk in the third quarter of 2015? Here are a few countries (not all, of course) that may be more prone to instability over the next few months in different parts of the world (note these are countries with protests related to controversial elections, constitutional votes and economic crises or violence from active terrorist groups):

In Asia, Myanmar is still the country to watch this quarter. The June 25 vote to block constitutional changes that would remove the military’s veto power in Parliament and give Aung San Suu Kyi a chance to run in the next election has already led to student-led protests. Expect more pro-democracy outbursts in the coming months before the November election. But also look out for more flare-ups involving ethnic rebels as the ongoing peace process unravels yet again (especially in Kachin and Shan states); and expect more Buddhist extremist attacks on Muslim minorities (especially the Rohingyas). More Rohingyas will desperately flee Myanmar to neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia – which will draw some ire from these governments and human rights groups. Until Burmese officials tackle this refugee crisis explicitly, political and regional instability will obviously rise.

Also, keep an eye on Sri Lanka in the run up to the August election, now that President Maithripala Sirisena has dissolved parliament. Former president (and sometime dictator) Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was routed in the January election after two terms and oversaw the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009, is eyeing a comeback as a prime ministerial candidate – this could lead to residual ethnic tensions resurfacing as Sri Lanka still works on post-conflict reconciliation. In Hong Kong, look out for more anti-government unrest as the pro-democracy movement is starting to resurface. And in Cambodia, civil society groups will continue to protest a draft law to regulate non-governmental organizations, despite the government’s instructions to stop.

In Africa, Kenya is still the country to watch this quarter due to the actions of al-Shabaab. The al Qaeda affiliate has openly said it will target non-Muslims through the next few weeks of the holy month of Ramadan – its first target was 14 Christian quarry workers who were killed in their homes on July 7. Somalia is also a prime target, where al-Shabaab has its home base. It is advancing deeper into the country, vowing to intensify attacks against the African Union and Somali security forces – in fact on June 26 it killed 30 people at an African Union military base.

Also, keep an eye on Nigeria. Yes, the March 30 election that saw President Goodluck Jonathan’s ouster was relatively peaceful, but former military general and current President Muhammad Buhari has not made significant progress against Boko Haram, despite his repeated declarations to crush the ISIS ally “without mercy”. The latest in a series of attacks came in north-central Nigeria on July 7 with a suspected suicide bombing killing 26 at a local government council office. And in Burundi, a controversial presidential election on July 15 could bring President Pierre Nkurunziza into power for a third time – despite the country’s two-term limit and protests against him recurrently since April 25. The recent parliamentary elections saw President Nkurunziza’s party win, despite the UN’s assertion that this was not a “free, credible or inclusive” election. Expect more instability, particularly as General Leonard Ngendakumana – who attempted a coup in May – threatened an uprising if the president continues his bid for another term.

In Europe, Greece is of course still the country to watch this quarter. The people have spoken – no more austerity-related bailout deals and perhaps no more euro? In the short-term, naturally we can expect more confusion and instability as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party attempt to renegotiate with creditors (who won’t necessarily allow for a new deal) and consider leaving the euro. Once the initial post-referendum euphoria wears off, anti-austerity citizens will wonder what’s next (will Greece become a failed state?) And so will citizens in others parts of the EU (how would Greece’s short-term exit impact them?) Elsewhere on the continent, austerity protests will persist to varying degrees, including in Scotland, England and Spain (though some of this is focused on opposition to the new gag law).

Lastly in Latin America, Ecuador is the country to watch this quarter – citizens are still protesting President Rafael Correa’s policies, particularly his wildly unpopular tax proposals (though due to mass protests he has temporarily put aside two controversial bills that would have raised taxes on inheritances and capital gains). President Correa’s tweets warning of a coup are far-fetched, but more volatility is a certainty. The same goes for recession-hit Venezuela. Yes, the 30-day hunger strike of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has ended as his demand was met – elections are now scheduled for December 6. But citizens will continue to demonstrate against President Nicolas Maduro’s government for creating the world’s highest inflation (note: the iPhone 6 currently sells at $47,000), chronic food shortages and uncontrollable crime, while others will simply flee the country. And of course, Brazil is worthy of special mention. Calls for President Dilma Rouseff’s impeachment have died down for the moment, but the failure of the government to tackle chronic issues like the economy and corruption mean her legitimacy will continue to decline in the eyes of her citizenry (in fact, her approval rating just sank to a new low – the lowest of any Brazilian president since the 1990s). Look out for more bursts of protests and calls for a coup, like back in April.
*Professor, Consultant, Blogger, Cartoonist in Political Risk, Prediction & Strategy.

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