Monthly Risk Spotlight: June 2021

AMERICAS

Peru’s Presidential Election and Future Impacts
On Sunday, 6 June the Peruvian Presidential runoff election was held. As of this writing, the far-left candidate and head of the Free Peru Party Pedro Castillo is holding a slim lead (50.244%) over the conservative candidate and head of the Popular Force Party Keiko Fujimori (49.756%) with 97.170% of the vote tallied. Fujimori held a brief lead Sunday evening, powered by the quick counting of urban area votes, but fell behind as votes from the more rural areas, which favor Castillo, continued to filter in. Much of the remaining votes to be counted come from extranjero voters, Peruvians currently located abroad, of which only 52% have been tallied so far. While extranjero voters have been approximately twice as likely to support Fujimori, they represent only a small proportion of the overall electorate (~1.542%).

In response to Castillo’s reported lead, the Sol dropped 2.5% against the US Dollar Monday 7 June, its largest drop in seven years, as investors began selling off currency and moving interests abroad. This is due to fears that Castillo may follow through on broad campaign promises of reform in line with his slogan “no more poor people in a rich country.” Specifically, Castillo has promised to significantly redistribute profits from the mining industry to the poor, talked of nationalizing key sectors, and vowed to rewrite the constitution, assumedly to assist in implementing those reforms.

On the other side, Fujimori has broadly embraced free market ideology, but is also the subject of an ongoing corruption investigation involving illegal campaign funds and could face a 30-year jail term if found guilty. This runoff election would be the third time in ten years that Fujimori has narrowly lost the presidency. While both candidates on election day called for calm, Fujimori at a press conference on 7 June made claims of “voting irregularities” and “systematic fraud,” encouraged supporters to report instances of fraud on social media and accused Castillo supporters of stealing votes. These claims were not backed up with evidence, and the observation group Unión Interamericana de Organismos Electorales (UNIORE) has so far reported no irregularities and stated that the election has complied with international standards.

While significant unrest has not yet taken place, the thin gap between the two candidates and the unsubstantiated allegations of fraud from Fujimori mean it is unlikely either candidate will be submitting their defeat for some time, further fueling uncertainty and the risk of unrest.

In the medium/long term the implications of the presidential election are largely curtailed by the extreme fracturing that currently defines Peru’s political landscape. While Castillo’s Free Peru party and Fujimori’s Popular Force party are the two most powerful groups currently, there are ten separate political parties that meet the 5% vote minimum to currently hold seats in congress. None of the parties hold a majority of seats (Free Peru has the most with 42 of 130). In the April election, a record 18 different candidates ran, and no single candidate garnered more than 20% of the vote (including either Castillo or Fujimori). This means that regardless of who wins this presidential election, they will have an incredibly weak electoral mandate, their party will not hold a majority of seats in congress, and they will face a number of separate parties which are actively opposed to their agenda. In such a fractured landscape it appears unlikely that ambitious reform agendas like that proposed by Castillo will be feasible, which could lead to political deadlock at a time when economic suffering and the COVID-19 pandemic have made effective governance more critical than ever.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Top ISIS Militants Arrested in Turkey
Although Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) were symbolically defeated in 2019, the organization has been reduced to clandestine cells operating across Turkey and the Middle East. Turkey was one of the first countries to designate ISIS as a terrorist organization in 2013. Authorities periodically carry out raids and detain ISIS members within its borders. In 2021 alone, Turkish security forces have captured at least 850 suspects with links to ISIS. In the past month, authorities announced the capture of two top ISIS figures in two separate raids.

A close aid to ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was captured in Istanbul. The joint operation was carried out by Turkey’s Police and its National Intelligence Agency. Codenamed Basim, he is an Afghan national that was captured in the Ataşehir district of Istanbul and is believed to be al-Baghdadi’s right-hand man. Basim is suspected of helping to hide al-Baghdadi in Syria’s Idlib province after the fall of ISIS as well as organizing training for ISIS in Syria and Iraq while serving on a decision-making council. Basim’s whereabouts had been unknown since December 2017. Authorities say he arrived in Turkey with a false passport and identity card.

A few weeks later, Abdul Wahhab Sofi Mahmoud was also captured in Istanbul. The suspect’s location was discovered after U.S. intelligence tipped off Turkish authorities. Mahmoud, along with three others, was captured in the Esenyurt district in Istanbul after fleeing Syria. The Egyptian-born member was a top explosives expert in ISIS. He specialized in making suicide belts and various explosive devices. He also reportedly was providing bomb-making and chemistry lessons to ISIS members online. Upon his capture, authorities learned he had been planning attacks in Turkey. In 2021’s domestic operations, 145 of 850 suspects have been imprisoned while some have been repatriated to their home country. In addition to the capture of ISIS members, authorities have seized documents and ammunition belonging to the organization.

NATO allies have criticized Turkey in the past for failing to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Syria. Turkey continues to be a regional transit hub to smuggle ISIS fighters and weaponry into Syria. Some critics believe this contributed to the initial rise of ISIS in the region. Recently, Turkey has stepped up its hunt for ISIS militants but the difficulty of securing its border with Syria and Iraq may ensure that the terrorist organization will continue to move supplies and fighters to and from countries.

ASIA-PACIFIC

Tiananmen Square Massacre Vigil Banned in Hong Kong
For the second year in a row, officials in Hong Kong have banned the annual vigil in remembrance of the 4 June 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre that left hundreds, if not thousands, of people dead. Just as was the case in the lead up to last year’s vigil, Hong Kong officials cited COVID-19 social distancing restrictions as the reason behind the ban. This decision comes, however, as Hong Kong’s social distancing rules have been eased for various other non-political events indicating that officials’ motivations for the ban were political rather than pandemic related. Indeed, the banning of the vigil appears to be part of a concerted effort by Beijing to suppress and censor any public acknowledgment of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Hong Kong.

While commemorations of the Tiananmen Square Massacre have been tightly restricted across mainland China for decades, including the scrubbing of any Tiananmen Square references on social media, Hong Kong has in previous years seen high turnout at vigils on the 4 June anniversary of the massacre. The largest of which typically takes place in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park. This year, however, Hong Kong officials cordoned off the park, threatening to arrest anyone who gathered there for unlawful assembly. A charge which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison if convicted. Despite the ban on assemblies and the police cordon, hundreds of activists are reported to have ringed the perimeter of the park lighting candles and turning on their cellphone flashlights to commemorate the victims of the massacre. Additionally, activists were able to gather without opposition at the University of Hong Kong’s Pillar of Shame, a sculpture erected in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square victims.

Even as many Hong Kongers were still able to publicly commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre, a right not recognized in mainland China, the intention of Communist Party leaders in Beijing and the sway they hold over Hong Kong’s government continue to be made abundantly clear. They seek to suppress any mention of the massacre and they have the capability to do this through the control they now have over Hong Kong’s internal policies. What remains to be seen, however, is how the government may justify banning any future Tiananmen Square events when they can no longer use COVID-19 social distancing restrictions as an excuse. As the hundreds of activists who ringed Victoria Park this past 4 June proved, however, scrubbing Tiananmen Square from the memories of Hong Kongers may not be as simple as it is now on the mainland.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

A Coup Within a Coup
President Bah Ndaw was sworn into office in September 2020, five weeks after staging a military coup d’etat in Mali to overthrow the then president. The junta agreed to hand power to a civilian-led transitional government after pressure from West African leaders. President Ndaw was picked by the junta leader Assimi Goita to head the transitional government until elections were to be held 18 months later. Assimi Goita was named Vice President, a role that did not exist before the coup but was created specifically to be occupied by a member of the junta. Initially, public opinion was positive and embodied the hope for change, but the new transitional government eventually became a repeat of the system it overthrew.

Fast forward seven months later and Vice President Goita staged another military coup. This time, President Ndaw and Prime Minister Ouane were arrested and taken into custody by military officers. The UN Mission in Mali and other international figures called for the unconditional release of the two leaders. Three days later President Ndaw resigned and he and Ouane were released. Vice President Goita, the man who staged two coups in less than nine months, was sworn in as the interim president.

The government is facing repercussions after the latest military coup. The African Union (AU) has since suspended Mali’s membership in response to the coup and threatened sanctions if a civilian-led government is not restored. French President Emmanuel Macron has threatened to pull troops out of Mali if it heads towards radical Islamism. With Operation Barkhane in place, France has close to 5,100 troops in the Sahel region. President Goita was summoned to an emergency meeting with the West African Coalition (ECOWAS) in Ghana a week later but did not participate in the closed-door discussions. The members have decided not to economically sanction Mali just yet, but they did suspend Mali’s membership. ECOWAS also reiterated that figures who have served as vice-president and prime minister of the transition government may not “under any circumstances, run as candidates in the upcoming presidential election.”

Foreign troops have been stationed in Mali since 2013 in attempts to improve stability and counter-terrorism. Terrorist groups such as Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam was al-Muslimin 9JNIM, the “Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims”) and ISIS-HS (ISIS in the Greater Sahel) operate in the Sahel region and much of northern Mali. International powers fear the latest revolt could undermine the regional fight against Islamist militants and exacerbate instability in the region.

EUROPE

Desperate Refugees Play “The Game” in Bosnia
A humanitarian crisis is looming in the Balkans as the European Union (EU) blocks thousands of migrants from Asia and North Africa, effectively locking them into a transient state at the Bosnia/Croatia border. In 2015, a wall was built along the south Hungarian border, which funneled most west-bound refugees into Bosnia in their attempts to enter the EU. Since then, roughly 60,000 migrants have moved through the country, with approximately 8,000 currently in limbo as they attempt to cross the border into Croatia.

Bosnia acts as a gateway country for refugees attempting to enter the EU, but the refugees have found themselves stranded as the EU has provided funding to Croatian border patrol to keep refugees out. Most refugees in Bosnia have fled war-torn countries such as Afghanistan to escape the violence and to provide a brighter future for their families. Now they face violence from Croatian police when they attempt to cross the border, with reported cases of beatings, robberies, and sexual assault. Multiple humanitarian agencies have documented these allegations, but Croatia denies any wrongdoing. Living conditions in Bosnian refugee camps are harsh. Most camps were designed for warm weather, so when the cold Balkan winters set in, refugees are left to fend for themselves with no electricity or running water. Although the EU sends roughly 20 million Euros a year to Bosnia for migration management, local politics often get in the way as most regions refuse to allow migrant camps in their regions. Many claim that migrants are responsible for high crime rates and protests are often held calling for refugees to be deported.

The desperate refugees have responded to the situation with a border-crossing strategy known as “the game.” The objective is to cross from Bosnia into Croatia without getting caught by the black-uniformed border patrol who hide in the woods. Every day, groups of single adults and families trek through the woods around the Bosnia/Croatia border, hoping to evade law enforcement patrols as they attempt to cross. Most are unsuccessful and are often pushed violently back into Bosnia after undergoing varying levels of abuse. Humanitarian organizations have heavily criticized the EU for this activity, claiming that the EU is attempting to avoid the responsibility of protecting asylum seekers.

After multiple failed crossings and violent encounters with Croatian law enforcement, many refugee families have adopted a new strategy known as the “stay game.” Women and children are less likely to be pushed back, so husbands stay behind in Bosnia as their wives and children cross into Croatia. If they successfully make it to a camp in Croatia, they can register and send their fathers a picture of their documents as proof of asylum-seeker status. Then the fathers can cross the border and wait in the open for law enforcement to pick them up in hopes that they will reunite them with their wives and children.  Unlike the original border-crossing strategy of evading law enforcement, these men wait in the open to be caught by police on purpose in hopes of making the process as legal as possible. Although they are entitled by EU law to be considered for asylum, they are still frequently denied and pushed back to Bosnia.

While many refugees are frustrated with the difficulty of entering the EU, they know all too well what awaits them if they give up and return home. With that in mind, they wake up every day, accepting the risk of being captured and beaten, hopeful that their children will not grow up as they did.

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